Car plows into SXSW crowd, registered attendee among 2 dead
By AUGUST BROWN, Andrea Chang and Gerrick D. Kennedy and Todd Martens
This story has been updated throughout to reflect new developments.|
Mar 13, 2014 | 1:57 PM
AUSTIN, Texas -- A car plowed into the crowd at the South by Southwest music festival early Thursday, leaving two dead and 23 injured, police said. One of the dead was a local Austin female, who was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
Also dead is Steven Craenmehr, 35, of the Amsterdam-based music booking and promotion agency MassiveMusic. The company released a statement on its website this morning that read: "It is with great sadness that we announce the sudden passing of our close friend and colleague Steven Craenmehr, 35, on March 13th, 2014 at SXSW. During the 8 years that Steven worked for MassiveMusic, we got to know him as an unstoppable force, full of life, love and laughter.
"This is an irreplaceable loss for the MassiveMusic family and we are grateful for the years we spent with him. Our thoughts are with Steven's family and friends."
Two more victims were characterized as being in "very critical condition" and three more were said to be "possibly" in need of surgery.
The driver of the car was booked on two counts of capital murder and multiple counts of aggravated assault. His name has not yet been released by officials but he was said to be uninjured.
The incident occurred shortly after 12:30 a.m. when police attempted to stop a motorist suspected of driving while intoxicated at a gas station. The driver sped off, said Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, and broke through a barricade. Tens of thousands of people descend upon Austin for the South by Southwest event, which is now in its 27th year, and many of the streets are closed only to pedestrian traffic.
The car then headed the wrong way down a one-way street that was crowded with music revelers. The vehicle struck a cyclist, a moped, a taxi and a van. Fatal injuries were sustained by the man on the bike -- a visitor from the Netherlands -- and a woman on a moped.
South by Southwest President Roland Sweson said a list of those affected by the accident would be released shortly and added that the festival will continue with limited disruptions. Pop star Lady Gaga is expected to perform Thursday night at a venue just a few blocks from the crashes.
"Despite all of our preparations for dealing with a major incident during SXSW, nothing could really prepare us for how this feels," Swenon said in a statement. "As much as we would like to just go home and spend time absorbing the shock of this horrific event, we feel our best use is to continue to operate today."
In the history of South by Southwest, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell said this was the first incident of its kind. Austin Fire Department Chief of Staff Harry Evans said critically injured patients were transported from the scene within 15 minutes. Eight remained hospitalized as of Thursday morning.
The suspect was taken into custody at the scene after police hit him with an electric stun gun. His name will be released by Austin police Thursday afternoon after he is formally charged, poice said.
Acevedo said the supsect acted "intentionally."
"This is an individual who showed no regard for the human beings he plowed through," he told reporters at a press conference. When asked by reporters if the barricades were insufficient, Acevedo said, "an individual who is willing to drive down the street mowing people down, is either going to crash through the barricade or go through the barricade."
The incident happened at the height of the evening's festivities during the SXSW music festival, with a number of musical performances underway at clubs up and down the area near Red River Street and 10th Street.
The street was instantly transformed into a scene of bloody mayhem, as emergency medical technicians rushed to aid the victims and police took the suspect into custody. Witnesses on the scene took to Twitter to post photos and video of the aftermath and offer help to police.
Luna said the impact was so great that it knocked the side mirror off the car and the man who was struck was thrown into Luna's girlfriend, 19-year-old Jasmine Rodriguez.
"We were inches from getting hit. Seriously, the car was right there," Luna said. "I didn't even have to extend my arm the whole way to touch that car, that's how close it was. It's a blessing we didn't get hit."
Nadia Neophytou, a freelance journalist from New York, had spent the evening catching shows and was going back and forth between the Mohawk and Stubbs. She had planned to catch Tyler the Creator.
"The space between the pedestrian barriers was already tight. So to have had someone come through there would have been insane," she said. "You don't think something like that could have happened because of those barriers. You kind of have this false sense of safety like the only thing to be aware of is drunken people tripping or falling in front of you."