A 21-year-old Killeen man plowed through a crowd of people during Austin’s South by Southwest festival early Thursday, killing at least two people and injuring more than 20, police said.
The driver, identified as Rashad Charjuan Owens, allegedly attempted to evade a police checkpoint about 12:30 a.m. Thursday, according to the Austin Police Department.
Police said the incident started when an officer on a drunken-driving patrol tried to stop Owens, who was driving a silver sedan, at a gas station on Ninth Street and the Interstate 35 frontage road. Owens fled, weaving between parked cars and driving at a high speed the wrong way down Ninth Street, which is one-way.
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said the crash transformed Red River Street — which is on the northeast edge of an Austin entertainment district that’s packed at all hours of the day and night during South by Southwest — into “basically a very long crime scene.”
He said he believed Owens was so intent on evading police that he willfully drove into the crowd.
“The bottom line is, when somebody’s acting intentionally, and this is a person that was trying to get away, it’s very difficult to stop,” Acevedo said, adding later: “It’s clear for me from his actions, from what I’ve seen, that this is an individual who showed no regard for the human beings that he plowed through in his attempt to get away.”
The crash was loud enough to shake the living room of Kirk Visser’s condo, two stories up.
“I knew I had heard metal on a body,” said the 47-year-old, who stepped out on his balcony to see people screaming and running in all directions.
Hours later, a pool of blood and bits of broken taillight were still in a crosswalk at the scene, with a trail of crimson droplets leading to the sidewalk. Still, concertgoers streamed in for another day of festivities, and by early afternoon, bass boomed through the area as bands played scheduled concerts nearby.
Police confirmed a male cyclist from the Netherlands and a female Austin resident riding a moped were killed.
Twenty-three others were transported to area hospitals. As of Thursday afternoon, two patients were in critical condition, three patients were in serious condition, three were hospitalized with nonlife-threatening injuries, and 15 were treated and released. The injured ranged in age from 17 to 39.
Massive Music, a company with offices in Amsterdam, New York and London, said employee Steven Craenmehr, 35, died suddenly in Austin. Additional information wasn’t available.
The Travis County Medical Examiner identified the other person who died as 27-year-old Jamie Ranae West of Austin.
West was on a moped that was struck by the car. Her husband, Evan West, was among those hospitalized.
Owens is facing two counts of capital murder and multiple counts of aggravated assault with a motor vehicle, according to Austin police. Formal charges are pending.
The vehicle involved in the incident may have been stolen from a Fort Hood soldier. Tyler Broadway, a Fort Hood spokesman, said the soldier filed a stolen vehicle report with the Killeen Police Department on Thursday morning. Details about the theft were not available at press time.
Bell County court records indicated Owens was arrested twice in Bell County — in August 2010 and January 2011 — for criminal trespassing. The 2010 charge stemmed from Owens trespassing at Shoemaker High School. The 2011 charge stemmed from an incident at a Mickey’s convenience store on Fort Hood Street. He refused to depart after he was told leave, according to an arrest affidavit.
For each offense, he received sentences of 60 days in Bell County Jail and was ordered to pay $324 in court costs and fines.
Public records obtained by The Associated Press show that Owens also had previous drunken-driving arrests in Alaska.
As a 19-year-old, Owens was charged and pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in Fairbanks, Alaska, in October 2011. He was also charged with leaving the scene of an accident, but that charge was dismissed.
According to his Facebook page, Owens fashioned himself as a music producer, and celebrated the birth of a son Feb. 5.
Owens is in custody in Travis County Jail, according to jail records.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Chris McGuinness at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at ChrismKDH.