A man and woman were killed early Thursday 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, police said.
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said 23 others were injured, five critically, in the crash that happened around 12:30 a.m. as the driver tried to evade a pursuing police officer. One of the people who died was riding a moped that was hit by the motorist. The other fatality was an individual riding a bike. The chief said the man also hit pedestrians in front of a club that was emptying.
Acevedo told reporters during a news conference that the motorist also struck a cab before crashing, jumping out of his car and trying to run. A pursuing officer shocked him with a stun gun and took him into custody.
The man, whose name was not released, faces two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle.
The incident happened as a vehicle crashed into a barricade set up at Red River St & 10th St in front of Cheer Up Charlies & Mowhawk. The driver then skidded to 9th Street. Performances at both venues were in full swing at the time.
A tweet from the APD added, "The names of the deceased will not be released until proper notifications have been made."
"This is extremely rare," said the officer of the severity of the accident. "In all the years of [hosting] South By Southwest, we've never seen anything like this."
Performers listed on the venues websites included a House of Vans Presents show at Mohawk that included Odd Future's Tyler the Creator, X, the Black Angels and Cities Aviv; at Cheer Up Charlie Yum, Hereticks and Hola Beach were to play.
The accident stunned revelers at the annual music, film and interactive conference that draws tens of thousands to Austin each year. Many were getting real-time reports from social media.
The street was full of concert-goers just minutes earlier, but officials had cleared the area because it is a fire lane.
"We had a large crowd," Acevedo said at a 2:30 a.m. news conference. "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."
Reports are coming in of a car accident involving several people outside the Mohawk. Story is developing. pic.twitter.com/SHrgEyUf3o
— Austin Statesman (@statesman) March 13, 2014
Acevedo did not identify the driver or the victims and asked witnesses and those who may have taken video to contact police rather than post it to the Internet. All the injured were taken to area hospitals.
Police said the man pulled into a nearby gas station in a silver Toyota sedan after an officer working a drunken-driving patrol tried to stop him. He wove his way through a series of parked cars, then took off at high speed the wrong way down a one-way street. He took a right turn on Red River Street, crashing through a barricade and narrowly missing a police officer who was standing guard.
He hit some of the victims in front of The Mohawk, thenn continued down the street where he struck and killed the two victims on the moped and then hit the cab before finally crashing.
Officers had closed off a two-block section of downtown Austin and continued to investigate into the morning. Acevedo said there were no plans to change safety protocols at the festival due to the accident.
"We do these events very well, but you cannot stop a person who rather than face drunk driving charges decides to speed 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," Acevedo said.
Wednesday marked the first full night of the music portion of South By Southwest. Headlining acts performing around town included Jay Z and Kanye West, who teamed up for a Samsung event, Spandau Ballet, who performed their first U.S. show in 28 years and Damon Albarn, who performed as part of the NPR showcase at nearby Stubb's.
Also not far from the scene of the accident: Lady Gaga, who was spotted taking in a set by Semi Precious Weapons at Rusty's on 7th Street around midnight.
The South by Southwest festival began March 7 and ends March 16.