• Rodolfo Gonzalez / Austin American-Statesman

    Festival-goers walk past flowers placed against a utility pole near the scene where two people were killed and 23 others were injured when a motorist fleeing police drove his car through a crowd of pedestrians during the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, on Thursday.

  • Rodolfo Gonzalez / Austin American-Statesman

    Ashley Dean



Large gatherings of happy people are somehow destined for tragedy.

That was the case at South by Southwest this week. In what Austin Police Chief Art Acevdo said what the worst incident in his seven years, and probably the worst in the history of the festival, two people are dead and 23 were injured.

As you’ve likely read, a drunk driver plowed his car through a barrier and into a pedestrian-filled street early Thursday morning. About 12:39 a.m., to be exact. About the time I was just yards away, ordering a pulled-pork sandwich.

The two blocks that the driver slammed into are home to several bars and venues that are hosting SXSW showcases. One of those is Cheer Up Charlie’s, where I was watching Kurt Vile with my fellow Second Story Garage reporter, Quentin Young.

I’d had far too much coffee (long days at South by) and nearly nothing to eat and was shaking. We had plans to see Tyler, the Creator at Mohawks on the same block. Quentin had scoped out the line and decided we could afford the time it would take to go around the corner to Stubb’s for some barbecue.

That pulled-pork sandwich might have saved our lives, or at least our limbs.

In the 15-20 minutes it took to go to Stubb’s and get my sandwich, the allegedly drunk driver plowed into the closed streets. Eyewitnesses told us “bodies flew.”

Music blared from nearby shows while we waited on the scene. Drunk people shouted just blocks away. If you weren’t there, you probably didn’t know what was going on. While most of Austin kept rocking, one small pocket of it was devastated.

I’d like to wrap this up by saying that music has cathartic power, that the shows going forward will be healing. But those who witnessed the carnage, who stood over bodies, are shaken. The rest of the crowds can go on and feel justifiably uplifted by the ongoing music, but there are people who watched terrible things, and people who lost their loved ones.

Music is an uplifting force, but it’s not one everyone in Austin can embrace right now, and that should be acknowledged. Quentin and I will keep reporting on the music as well as this horrible occurrence, and we, like others, will find comfort, but there is no easing the pain of what happened.

And that brings me to my real point, the one I’d rather not make.

Gatherings like South By Southwest breed this behavior, through no fault of the festival staff. We need to do better. The organizers don’t need to do better. We need to. We the masses of attendees. Just think twice, thrice, a million times, before you let that put everyone else in danger.

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