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2 killed at South by Southwest

March 14, 2014 at 12:04 a.m.
Updated March 13, 2014 at 10:14 p.m.

Bystanders and paramedics tend to a person who was struck by a vehicle on Red River Street in downtown Austin at SXSW on Wednesday.  Police say a man and woman have been killed after a suspected drunken driver fleeing from arrest crashed through barricades set up for the South By Southwest festival and struck the pair and others on a crowded street.

AUSTIN (AP) - Fleeing police, a driver gunned a gray Honda Civic through a street barricade and into a crowd of South By Southwest festival attendees early Thursday, killing two people, injuring 23 others and casting a pall over one of the nation's hippest celebrations of music, movies and technology.

The driver struck multiple pedestrians around 12:30 a.m. on a block filled with concertgoers then sped down the street, hitting and killing a man from theNetherlands on a bicycle and an Austin woman on a moped, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said. The driver eventually crashed into a parked van and tried to flee on foot before police used a stun gun to subdue him.

Rashad Charjuan Owens, 21, will face two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle, Austin police said Thursday afternoon in a statement. Formal charges are still pending.

Police said the incident started when an officer on a drunken-driving patrol tried to stop a vehicle. Acevedo indicated the suspect was drunk, but drunken driving was not among the charges police said Owens would face. Acevedo said investigators have obtained blood samples and were testing them.

Public records obtained by The Associated Press show that Owens had a previous conviction in Alaska for drunken driving and one in Texas for criminal trespassing.

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, 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."

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."

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.

Now in its 27th year, South By Southwest has grown from a small showcase for up-and-coming bands to an international extravaganza, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors and top music and Hollywood stars. Acevedo said the festival had never experienced a similar deadly incident before.

Three people were in critical condition Thursday afternoon, up from two earlier in the day.

"We are going to do our best for them, but these are some of the worst injuries that we see and not everybody with these kinds of injuries is going to survive," said Dr. Christopher Ziebell, the emergency department director at the University Medical Center-Brackenridge, about three blocks from where the crash occurred and where most of the victims were taken.

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 the moped that was struck. Her husband, Evan West, was among those hospitalized.

The names of the other injured people were not released.

Public records obtained by the AP show that, as a 19-year-old, Owens was charged and pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in Fairbanks, Alaska, in October 2011.

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