UPDATE: A SXSW organizer issued a statement Thursday expressing shock at the incident, while stating that "to avoid confusion, we plan to carry on with our scheduled daytime events at the Austin Convention Center in order to serve our tens of thousands of participants during this tragic time."
Two people were killed and 23 others injured at South by Southwest Thursday morning after a car drove through a temporary barricade set up for the festival, Austin police confirmed to Rolling Stone.
The accident occurred at 12:30 a.m. Austin time on the corner of E. 10th St. and Red River St. after the driver, a lone male whose name has not been released, hit multiple people on the busy street set up for a House of Vans show at The Mohawk.
Lt. Brian Moon of Austin Police Department told Rolling Stone that a Vehicular Homicide Unit and DWI Unit are investigating the driver for driving under the influence. At a press conference held shortly after the incident, Art Acevedo, Austin chief of police, said the suspect was currently in custody and will be charged with two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault.
The incident started after a police officer began checking for DWIs. The suspect, fearing arrest, weaved his silver Toyota sedan through a gas station and sped off, driving the wrong way down a one-way street. The officer turned on his lights and pursued the suspect. A second officer stationed at a nearby barricade was forced to move to avoid being struck by the suspect, who proceeded to further accelerate, drive through the barricade and strike multiple pedestrians.
The suspect continued driving "at a high rate of speed" for two blocks before hitting a taxi and striking a male and a female, killing them both. The suspect exited his car after running over the victims and proceeded to flee on foot, where he was apprehended and tased by an Austin police officer before being taken into custody.
"As a result of this person's reckless and willful disregard for the safety of the people, we have two individuals who are now dead," Acevedo said. The entire incident lasted under two minutes.
While the female victim has yet to be identified, the male has been revealed as Steven Craenmehr, a 35-year-old Dutch employee of music agency MassiveMusic. The company posted the following statement on their website:
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 eight 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.
Austin Police Chief Holds Press Conference Following SXSW Accident
Moon said the 21 victims transported to local hospitals have injuries ranging from "minor to critical." Most of the victims were pedestrians, though two people in a taxi were also hospitalized. "This is extremely unusual," says Moon. "There have been some very rare instances of vehicles striking pedestrians in the entertainment area, but this is the first time it's ever affected a SXSW event."
Inside the Mohawk, veteran punk band X were halfway through their set when the accident occurred. When management first told the crowd that there had been an incident outside, some people laughed, thinking it was a joke. The audience was initially told they could stay, but the room quickly evacuated. One Rolling Stone writer who was at the Mohawk heard an audience member telling friends that he saw bodies flying in the air.
Outside, a crowd of people had been waiting on line for Tyler, the Creator's set, which was subsequently cancelled in light of the accident. Tyler tweeted after the accident, "Show Isnt Happening, Something Sad Happened. I'm Bummed. Fuckk man." "We had a large crowd," said Acevedo. "I just thank God that a lot of the folks had already been pushed on the sidewalk or this could have been a lot worse."
"We do these events very well," Acevedo added. "But you cannot stop a person who decides, rather than face potential drunk driving charges, to continue at a high rate of speed, go around a uniformed officer forcing him to run out of the way, then at a high rate of speed show total disregard for the sanctity of human life."
Asked if the pursuit policy had contributed to the accident in any way, Acevedo replied, "There is only one person who's responsible for this."
On Thursday, SXSW organizers released the following statement: "Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by the tragic accident that took place last night here in Austin. We appreciate and commend the first responders, as well as the city agencies who so quickly sprung into action. 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."
Austin police are asking any witnesses to the crime to call them at 512-974-5186 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional reporting by Gavin Edwards.