Houston-born music producer and musician Nic Brem said the volume of music being played outside an Austin club on Thursday morning may have been so loud that a crowd didn’t know a car had just crashed through a nearby police barricade.
Brem was standing near the back door of The Mohawk club when a suspected drunken driver plowed through a crowd on Red River, killing two and injuring 23 others taking part in the city’s annual SXSW festival.
“I literally turned around and saw people scattered everywhere, but it was weird because I didn’t hear anything because of the music,” said Brem.
Houston restaurateur and food truck owner Josh Martinez said he was lucky he avoided the crash.
“I had just left the Mohawk to go see Spandau Ballet,” said Martinez. “If it were 10 minutes later I would have been on the street as it was happening.” The Spandau Ballet reunion show was at the Vulcan Gas Company, about four blocks away from the crash.
According to Martinez, Austin police had the area blocked off and all injured were off the street and getting treatment within 15 minutes of the crash. SXSW staff were out keeping people updated on the incident, he added.
Martinez, who was in town with some of his Goro & Gun staff working in a food truck, said he has accounted for all of his employees. None were injured, he said.
Houston photographer Daniel Jackson was like most SXSW fans Thursday morning, unaware of the situation until sometime after it happened.
Jackson is in Austin to see Houston band The Suffers play a handful of shows. One of Jackson’s friends told him that his girlfriend was one of the first on the scene and administered CPR to one of the injured.
The suspect, identified as 22-year-old Rashad Charjuan Owens of Killeen , faces two counts of capital murder and multiple counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle, said Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo.
Acevedo corrected original reports of those who were struck and killed. One who was killed was a local woman who was on a moped. Its driver is in stable and good condition, Acevedo said. He said the second person killed was a man from The Netherlands who was a cyclist.
According to the Central Texas Chapter of the Red Cross, it is providing Safe & Well database services to those seeking information about their loved ones who may have been affected by this incident. Those in Austin who would like to check in and let friends and family know they are safe are asked to log-on to that site.
‘Some of the worst injuries we see’
Six patients remained at University Medical Center Brackenridge on Thursday morning, two of them with severe head injuries, officials said.
Dr. Christopher M. Ziebell, medical director of the hospital’s emergency department, said one had undergone surgery and was in the intensive care unit, and the other was in the special-procedures lab where life-saving treatment as underway.
“The head injuries are the ones we’re fighting the hardest and the most,” he told reporters at a morning briefing. “Two are critical, three are serious, one is good . . . and two were treated and released.”
Of the most critical, Ziebell said they had “some of the worst injuries we see,” injuries so severe that those who suffer them sometimes do not recover.
The driver was among those who were treated the released, he said.
Ziebell said most of the victims are in their 20s, a mix of males and females, many from outside Austin. “Some (family members) are coming from great distances,” he said.
He and police officials credited Austin-Travis County Emergency Services personnel with fast action early Thursday that saved lives. The medics had last week undergone a training drill to plan for a car driving into a large crowd, in preparation for SXSW, and the hospital is located just three blocks from the scene of the tragedy, allowing fast transport and treatment of the most severely injured, Ziebell said.
James Shamard, chief of staff for Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services, said of 25 initial patients, two were pronounced dead. He said of 23 transported to three hospitals, 15 have been released and eight remain hospitalized.
Festival carries on
Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell said this is the first time in its 27 years that SXSW has had an incident of this kind., calling it “tragic.”
Some on social media Thursday morning called for the festival to be canceled, but Martinez said the crash should not be blamed on SXSW organizers. Martinez said the crash could have happened any day of the year.
“The fact of the matter this was a horrible accident that was caused by one person’s decision,” said Martinez. “He made a grave mistake and his actions killed and changed the lives of many people.”
Roland Swenson of SXSW said those involved with the organization are stunned and deeply moved by the event. He said they plan to carry on with scheduled daytime events at the Austin Convention Center to keep the tens of thousands of partipants from outside the city occupied.
“Despite all of our preparations for dealing with a major incident during SXSW, nothing could really prepare us for how this feels,” said Swenson in a statement Thursday. “As much as we would like to just go home and spend time absorbing the shock of this horrific event, we feel our best use is to continue to operate today.”
Acevedo expressed support for carrying on.
“If you were to cancel events, it would be a victory for evil,” he said.
Reporter Mike Ward contributed to this story