AUSTIN — Kendall Smith was walking to his downtown hotel early Thursday morning when he heard what sounded like a car bottoming out.

Instead it was the sound of a car hitting a person — one of many hit by a suspected drunken driver who, fleeing police, crashed through a barricade and plowed into a crowd at the annual South By Southwest music festival.

A man on a bicycle and a woman on a moped were killed, and 23 people were injured, some critically, officials said.

The suspect, identified by police as Rashad Charjuan Owens, 21, of Killeen, Texas, is facing two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault, according to Austin police.

Smith, event director of the Denver Post's Underground Music Showcase, was witness to the gruesome scene.

He walked over to where more than one body was in the street in the area of 11th Street and Interstate 35. The victims he saw were wearing helmets. He checked their condition, but they did not respond, he said. He then started to direct traffic away from the scene.

A woman was also checking on the victims and seemed to find cause for hope.

"She said, 'I think she's alive,'" Smith said. "I said, 'Talk to her. Keep talking to her.'"

A shoe and a pair of safety goggles were lying in the street, Smith said.

Police said the driver fled in his car after being stopped on suspicion of DUI by an officer at a nearby gas station. He led police on a chase and crashed through a barricade on Red River Street, which was closed to car traffic and was packed with festival-goers, at about 12:30 a.m.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said the motorist eventually crashed and tried to make a getaway on foot, but a police officer shocked him with a stun gun and took him into custody.

Rashad Charjuan Owens
Rashad Charjuan Owens (Courtesy/ Bell County Sheriff's Office)

The two people who died were a woman from Austin and a man from the Netherlands, Acevedo said.

Dutch music company Massive Music said one of its employees was killed in the crash and identified him as 35-year-old Steven Craenmehr.

The Austin American-Statesman identified the female victim as Jamie Ranae West, 27, of Austin.

Smith saw the conclusion to the chase. He saw the car careen down the road and heard an officer shout orders to the man after he exited his car, he said.

Two people were in critical condition Thursday with life-threatening head injuries and three patients remained in serious condition, said Dr. Christopher Ziebell, emergency department director at the University Medical Center-Brackenridge.

"The most critical patients I have a great deal of concern for," Ziebell said. "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."

Many Colorado musicians and music professionals are in Austin this week to perform during SXSW, and several of them were in the neighborhood of the incident.

Max Barcelow, drummer for Fort Collins-based Fierce Bad Rabbit, was about a block away, and he walked over to find a crowd of distressed witnesses.

"People were standing around crying," he said. "Everybody was calling each other to see if they were OK."

SXSW draws thousands of musicians from around the world, causing an environment that might be more prone to such an incident, Barcelow said.

"I just think it's the reality of this many people coming together in one city," he said, adding, "Everybody's traumatized."

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

Second Story Garage hosts Quentin Young and Ashley Dean are in Austin following Colorado artists at South By Southwest. Follow their coverage at secondstorygarage.com, on Twitter at @QYoungTC and @AshaleyJill and at facebook.com/SecondStoryGarage.