A 21-year-old man from Killeen, Texas, is being held in connection with the deaths of two people at the South by Southwest festival, authorities said Thursday.
Rashad Charjuan Owens was taken into custody Thursday morning and will face two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault, according to a spokeswoman for the Austin Police Department.
The suspect was first identified by the American-Statesman newspaper in Austin.
The two people killed were a Texas woman who was riding on a moped and a Dutch man who was riding a bicycle, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo told a news conference.
"This is an individual that showed no regard for the human beings that he plowed into in his attempt to get away," Acevedo said of the Owens, whose name was at that point not released.
Acevedo said police had taken blood samples from the man and have video of the incident from a police dashboard camera.
Owens was asked to pull over at a sobriety check point and instead allegedly sped away from a police car. He smashed through a police barricade and then plowed down people, some of them lined up outside the Mohawk club, over a span of two blocks.
Witnesses said victims were flying in the air after being struck.
Jayda Luna, 21, said he was in line at Mohawk, a club next to Cheer Up Charlie's, when the car slammed into the crowd. "I saw bodies fly into the air, and there was blood, and it was unbelievable," Luna said. "It was the most horrifying thing I've ever seen in my entire life."
Owens then tried to flee on foot but was subdued by an officer with the stun gun.
Emergency medical teams, on standby for the festival, responded quickly and the most severely injured victims were transported to nearby hospitals, officials said.
"All of our critical patients were off the scene within 15 minutes of the time we received the first call,"James Shamard, chief of staff for Travis County EMS, told the news conference.
Five of the victims were initially in critical condition and two remained in that condition after suffering head injuries, medical officials said. Five other victims were initially listed as being in serious condition.
The suspect had minor injuries and was treated at the same hospital as many of the victims. He was then taken into police custody, hospital office.
An estimated 32,000 people swarm through the capital of the southern state for SXSW, a collection of interactive, film, and music festivals and conferences, which runs from March 7 to March 16.
Many roads in downtown Austin are closed to traffic each night of the event as thousands take to restaurants, bars, clubs and movie theaters. Police set up numerous checkpoints in the area to look for people suspected of driving under the influence.
Roland Swenson, the festival's managing director, said the event would continue. The Mohawk and a neighboring club, Cheer Up Charlie's, reopened for business Thursday night in the aftermath of the tragedy.
"After talking with the Austin Police Department, we have determined that the most prudent course of action is to move forward with the South by Southwest shows scheduled at the Mohawk and Cheer Up Charlie's tonight," Swenson said in a statement. "If we were to turn away potentially thousands of people who will arrive to see the shows, it would create a serious safety issue. To avoid confusion we plan to carry on in order to serve our tens of thousands of participants during this tragic time."
Police Chief Acevedo echoed Swenson, telling reporters, "We cannot allow one individual to ruin a celebration of life, of music."
Mohawk owner James Moody added, "My staff and myself are broken hearted for not only the victims and families of this senseless tragedy but also for our beloved Red River and this entire community. We have spent today working with South by Southwest and the city to create a relief fund for the victims. This is our number one priority – their care and support. We are a community here that exists far beyond the 10 days of South by Southwest. Our intent is to come together to help the families of each and every one of the victims."
For those interested in helping the victims and their families, resources are here:
SXSW Cares (#SXSWCares) The SXSW Cares Fund will help people affected by the tragic events of March 13, 2014. The funds will be disbursed to those most affected through a community-based process. Please donate at www.sxswcares.com
-Reuters, Greg Kot and the Los Angeles Times contributed to this reportCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun