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Despite tragedy, the beat goes on at SXSW

Friday, March 14, 2014 by Mark Richardson

After an early morning tragedy that left two people dead and sent 23 others to local hospitals, stunned city officials spent most of Thursday working through the grief and trying to keep the South by Southwest Music festival on track.

 

Officials said they will open an Emotional Support Center downtown Friday to help festival goers and other deal with the shock and emotional trauma of the event.

 

Shortly after midnight Thursday, a man said to be fleeing from police at a DWI checkpoint drove through a barricade on Red River Street and plowed through the crowd, hitting a moped, a bicycle and a taxi, scattering bodies for several blocks.

 

Police say two people were killed – a Dutch musician on a bicycle identified as Steven Craenmehr and an Austin woman on a moped, Jamie Ranae West. A total of 23 people were taken to area hospitals. Three were listed in critical condition late Thursday, including two with severe head injuries. Other victims sustained severe head and spinal injuries, police said.

 

The suspect, 21-year-old Rashad Charjuan Owens of Killeen was arrested shortly after the collisions as he fled the scene on foot. Police Chief Art Acevedo said he will be charged with two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle.

Acevedo said he believed Owens was so intent on evading the 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. “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.”

Acevedo praised the actions of both first responders and those bystanders who worked to help the injured at the scene. He also said the police had received numerous reports from witnesses to the tragedy. This is the first such incident in the 27 years of the festival.

Despite the tragedy, city and SXSW officials decided to continue the music portion of the festival, which started Wednesday. Several events in the area along Red Rivers Street where the incident took place canceled or postponed events Thursday, but most of the rest of the festival went on as planned.

 

The city and SXSW are partnering with the American Red Cross of Central Texas to establish an Emotional Support Center in downtown Austin to assist residents and visitors coping with the tragic events. The jointly-operated center will focus on providing counseling and emotional support to SXSW staff and volunteers, as well as residents or visitors affected by the incident.

The Emotional Support Center will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday on the second floor of the Radisson Hotel, 111 E. Cesar Chavez St. 

 

Roland Swenson, SXSW’s managing director, said it would be better for all concerned if the festival’s events continue. “I think it would probably cause more problems for everyone to show up and be turned away from a show than to just move ahead,” he said.

An outdoor vigil was held at the nearby St. David’s Episcopal Church at Eighth Street and San Jacinto Boulevard. The grieving came and went as the din of the music festival played in the background. A small memorial of flowers and other momentos was begun near the place where the two victims died.

Those wishing to help those affected can make monetary donations to support relief services through the SXSW Cares Fund. The funds will be disbursed to those most affected through a community-based process. Donate at www.sxswcares.com.

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