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Crash Update from City Press Conference

Driver to be charged with intentional capital murders

By Michael King, 1:30PM, Thu. Mar. 13

Bell County Jail photo of Rashad Charjuan Owens.
Bell County Jail photo of Rashad Charjuan Owens.
Photo via KWTX.com

Other media are reporting the identity of the suspect driver in the Red River crash as Rashad Charjuan Owens, 22, of Killeen, who may have been driving a stolen car. Austin Police Department Chief Art Acevedo said he will be charged with two counts of capital murder (and many felonies) because he “committed an intentional act.”

Mayor Lee Leffingwell and officials from APD, the Austin Fire Department, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services, and SXSW managing director Roland Swenson all spoke at this morning’s press conference, held at 9th and Red River at 10:30 this morning. All the speakers expressed condolences for the victims who had lost their lives or been injured in the late night incident (approximately 12:30am). Leffingwell in particular said there is “no way to express” the city’s sorrow at this “tragic event”; he also thanked all the first responders who were on the scene within minutes and reacted quickly and efficiently to the events.

The mayor also noted that in 27 years of the SXSW Festivals, this was the “first incident of its kind.” Later, an extremely somber Swenson noted that decisions were still being made about precisely how to adjust Festival activities around the circumstances, but that the intentions were to proceed as normally as possible for all the attendees in town, and that he was being encouraged by the local officials to try to maintain the Festival events. Commented Acevedo, “We urged [SXSW] to continue as planned. We cannot allow one person who committed an evil act to ruin a wonderful, worldwide event.”

Harry Evans, AFD chief of staff, reported that there were 24 firefighters on the scene within 15 minutes of the initial incident, reported initially as a “vehicle/pedestrian accident.” The first calls came at 12:30am; EMS was on the scene at 12:32, more than six ambulances responded, two people were attempted to be revived and declared dead, and 23 people were moved to hospitals or treated on the scene.

James Shamard of ATTCEMS said that medical triage sorted the injured into categories of seriousness, and that the five critically injured were moved to Brackenridge Hospital, three blocks north) within 15 minutes; others were moved there or to St. David's or South Austin hospital. Two people remain critically injured at Brack, and three others are described as “seriously” injured. Acevedo urged those still wondering about loved ones to contact the Red Cross, at 800-928-4271.

Acevedo said the incident began with a routine drunk-driving stop at the nearby Shell station at 9th and 1-35 frontage road southbound. Initially appearing to pull into the station, the suspect driver instead drove through the station, turned westbound onto 9th (a one-way eastbound road) and had sped westbound and then north on Red River while the officer was only beginning to pursue. The suspect forced an officer on foot at 9th and Red River to jump aside, drove through or around the traffic barricade and then proceeded at high speed through pedestrians, up two blocks to 11th Street (beside The Mohawk nightclub) where he crashed into spectators and then a cab – meanwhile killing a woman on a moped and a man on a bicycle – before fleeing on foot. He was pursued by officers on foot, tased, subdued, and arrested, and briefly taken to a hospital for minor injuries before being taken to jail.

Acevedo also said, “Tragedy brings opportunity, and also a gut-check. The gut-check is that after being scared for a minute, everybody on the scene – bystanders and first responders – sprung into action. The silver lining is that the best of humanity came together” to do what they could to help or to report to police what they had seen. He asked any witnesses, particularly if they have video or photographs, to contact the police with their information, at 512-974-5186.

In reference to the anticipated charges – the suspect had not yet been charged this morning – Acevedo said he expected two charges of capital murder and many charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. “The vehicle was used as a weapon,” Acevedo said. He added that the suspect “had committed an intentional act” – explaining why the anticipated charge was murder rather than a lesser charge, such as intoxication manslaughter.

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