Driver faces capital murder charges in fatal SXSW crash
AUSTIN, Texas — An intoxicated driver fleeing police plowed his car into a crowd at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, early Thursday, killing two people, authorities said.
The driver, who now faces two counts of capital murder, Texas’ highest offense, hit pedestrians, a moped, a taxi, a bicycle and a van, said Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo. Authorities will not release the driver’s identity until he is formally charged.
The suspect also faces 23 counts of aggravated assault by vehicle, Acevedo said.
The dead have not been identified, but they were a Dutch man on a bicycle and a local woman on a moped, Acevedo said, correcting his earlier statement that the victims had been on a motorcycle.
Twenty-three others were hospitalized, some with multiple internal injuries. Most of the victims were in their 20s, said Dr. Christopher Ziebell, medical director at the University Medical Center Brackenridge emergency department.
“A few of the cases are quite severe,” Ziebell said during a news conference, adding that he has concerns about the two most critical patients.
As of late Thursday morning, 15 of the 23 people hospitalized had been released, according to James Shamard, chief of staff for Austin-Travis County EMS. Two patients remain in “very critical” condition, three are in serious condition and receiving treatment, while three others remain hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, he said.
Ziebell said it was fortunate the incident occurred so close to the hospital, and he applauded the Travis County paramedics, who had just undergone training for a similar scenario, for their response.
The incident began when an officer noticed a man driving the wrong direction on a one-way street shortly after midnight.
A patrol officer attempted to stop the car near a crowded gas station, Acevedo said. The driver, the chief said, acted as if he was pulling over into the gas station, but he continued through the parking lot and exited, accelerating down the street.
The officer attempting to pull him over couldn’t follow him because the parking lot was so crowded, so he had to back out, Acevedo said. Another officer working barricade control had to jump out of the driver’s way as he accelerated for about two blocks, striking pedestrians and vehicles, the chief said.
A foot chase ensued, and an officer eventually caught the driver and used his Taser to subdue him, Acevedo said.
“It looked like something out of a movie,” said Russ Barone, who was at the festival. “A few people lying on the street … with their friends around them trying to get them up, trying to get them back to life. Hopefully, they are.”
He said the scene was grisly, with people bleeding in the streets.
“I’ve never seen nothing like it. I felt like I was at a war or something,” Barone said. “I was down here for the music … we were having the best time ever. And then it turned into the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”
Pablo Vazquez was also at the event when the suspect drove past him.
“The car barely missed me … I was less than a foot away,” Vazquez told CNN’s New Day. “I saw some folks die.”
It kept moving forward, swerving to hit victims and even ramming into a taxi at one point, he said.
Photos and video posted to social media showed people sprawled on a street for about a block with first responders kneeling over them. In one instance, they’re seen performing CPR.
Witnesses on a YouTube video said the car sped through the crowd, tossing some victims into the air and knocking others down.
Acevedo urged those posting videos on social media to turn them over to authorities instead.
South by Southwest is an annual event that features film, interactive and music festivals, and draws crowds to the Texas capital every year.
In a statement on its website, SXSW commended the first responders and city agencies that assisted them and said its thoughts and prayer were with the victims and those affected.
“We will be making schedule and venue changes for programming in the surrounding area of last night’s events. All other programming will continue as previously scheduled.” the statement said.
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