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'Bodies Went Flying' As Car Tore Through Crowd At SXSW

Bystanders rushed to help those who were struck by a vehicle early Thursday on Red River Street in Austin, which was crowded with people headed to South by Southwest events.
Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman
Bystanders rushed to help those who were struck by a vehicle early Thursday on Red River Street in Austin, which was crowded with people headed to South by Southwest events.
This post has been updated. Click here to jump to that news.

Revelry turned to horror early Thursday "after a car plowed through South by Southwest crowds in Downtown Austin," KUT reports.

The Austin American-Statesman describes what happened this way:

"A driver attempting to evade a drunk driving stop hurtled past a barricade on Red River Street and plowed through dozens of SXSW revelers, killing two and injuring 23 in a horrific scene early Thursday morning, police said. The street, home to many popular clubs hosting South by Southwest music showcases, had been closed to motorists and was crowded with music fans waiting to get into the Mohawk nightclub.

"According to police, the man, driving a small Toyota car, went the wrong way down Ninth Street after evading a stop at a gas station around 12:30 a.m., turned onto Red River and drove for more than two blocks, striking numerous pedestrians before hitting a scooter traveling on 11th Street, . The driver then struck a taxi, injuring two, and crashed into a parked van, Police Chief Art Acevedo said."

Police on the scene used a stun gun to subdue the man. According to KUT, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo "told reporters the suspect will be charged with capital murder."

The American-Statesman adds that:

"Ally Hulton, a 28-year-old from Los Angeles, was smoking a cigarette on the balcony of her friend's apartment on Red River when she saw a car drive down the street 'at full speed' before hitting someone.

"It then appeared to accelerate into a crowd of people, she said. 'About 10 bodies went flying,' Hulton said."

KUT has posted several photos taken at the scene and writes that "Austin police ask videos and photos of the incident be turned over at the following number: (512) 974-5186. As the event happened at one of the U.S.'s premiere media events, many images are available on social media."

Update at 8:43 p.m. ET. The Suspect:

Police this afternoon identified 21-year-old Rashad Charjuan Owens as the man suspected of driving his car through a crowded street.

In a press release, police say Charjuan has not been formally charged, but is facing "two counts of Capital Murder and multiple counts of Aggravated Assault with a Motor Vehicle."

The Austin American Statesman reports Owens was set to perform at an East Austin club. The paper adds:

"Owens was raised in a Christian home in Killeen, enjoys producing music and had been trying to go forward in life to do good and provide for his toddler son, his grandmother told the American-Statesman on Thursday afternoon.

"Reached at her home in South Carolina, his grandmother said she was grief-stricken and shocked to hear of the allegations against her grandson.

"'I pray. I pray. I pray,' she said, declining to give her name as she did not yet know the full details of what happened overnight Thursday and was still processing the shock. 'He is good. He is so good. ...Whatever happened was out of his control, I am sure.'"

Update at 12:15 p.m. ET. More Details.

At a news conference moments ago, Police Chief Acevedo said:

-- The suspect "faces two counts of capital murder ... and multiple counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle." He did not name the suspect, who he said "has been booked" but not yet formally charged and will be named once the charges have been filed.

-- It's been determined that one of the persons killed was a woman from the Austin area who was a passenger on a moped. The other person who died was a man from the Netherlands who was riding a bicycle. Earlier, it was reported that both people who died had been riding the moped. We've that line in the post above.

-- He supports the decision by SXSW organizers to go on with the festival today. "We cannot allow one individual ... to ruin a worldwide event," the chief said.

-- The incident began when an officer in a patrol car signaled to the suspect to pull over. The suspect, "feinting as if he was going to yield," pulled into a gas station parking lot. Then, he accelerated back onto a street and drove off at a high rate of speed — through a traffic barrier.

Also at the news conference, emergency medical services Chief James Shamard said:

-- The two people who were killed were pronounced dead at the scene.

-- Of the 23 people who were injured: 2 are still in very critical condition at a local hospital; 3 are in serious condition; 3 others are still hospitalized with "nonlife-threatening injuries"; and the 15 others were transported to hospitals, treated for their injuries and later released.

Roland Swenson, SXSW's managing director, told reporters that "as much as we would just like to go home and spend time absorbing the shock of this horrific event, we feel our best use is to just continue operating today. ... We all feel some obligation to all of the people who have traveled here from all over the world."

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Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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