There was horrible news out of Austin this morning. Once again, some one decided to drive drunk, and once again, it ended in tragedy.
Two people were killed and another 23 were injured when a car driven by a drunk driver plowed into a crowd of people late last night at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Music and Film Festival.
A man in intensive care is from Fort Worth.Rasheed Charjuan Owens, 22, who lives in Killeen, apparently stole a car and was driving while intoxicated and possibly under the influence of drugs.
An Austin police officer on a drunk driving patrol tried to arrest him on the frontage road of Interstate 35 downtown.
Owens took off, wove in between parked cars, drove the wrong way up a one way street. He accelerated through barricades that had been set up for the festival to protect festival goers and nearly ran into a police officer.
He crashed into Steven Craenmehr, 35, who was from the Netherlands and Jamie Ranae West, 27, who was riding on the back of a moped with her husband, tragically killing them.
Owens then hit 23 other people scattered over a three block area who were walking out of night clubs in the vicinity of 9th Street and Red River.
Chief Acevedo said the drunk “showed no regard for the human beings he plowed through.”
An eye witness, Rae Votta, 30, said that people had no time to react. She had been standing two blocks from the initial impact when she saw the Honda barreling by her. “It slammed into a cab and spun off to the side,” Ms. Votta said. “Then I saw the moped and three bodies on the ground. I could see three people and not one of them was moving.”
The driver also hit a van and a taxi before stopping and fleeing on foot. The officer in pursuit subdued the drunk driver with an electric stun gun before taking him into custody.
“There is only one person responsible for this, someone with no regard for the sanctity of life,” Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a briefing. “Our focus is on gathering evidence and seeking justice for the people who lost their lives.”
The injured victims were taken to area hospitals after the crash, Five of the injured people were in critical condition today. Two suffered massive head injuries.
One of those in the ICU, Deandre Tatum,19, graduated from Trimble Tech High School last year. His girlfriend, Curtisha Davis, 18, a senior at Tech, suffered a broken neck, arm, leg, and other injuries. A third Tech student was treated at a local hospital but released.
My heart goes out to the families of those who were killed and injured.
The only good news in this heart breaking story is that organizers had just set up an emergency fire lane in the vicinity or more people would have been injured or killed. This is the first incident like this in the long history of the Festival.
Owens faces two counts of capital murder, 23 counts of aggravated assault, driving while intoxicated, felony theft, resisting arrest, and other charges. I am glad that police were able to quickly apprehend him. I hope he is convicted and spends the rest of his life in prison for these heinous acts.
In addition, Owens will also be liable for the massive damages of the victims. The families of the two people killed may file wrongful death lawsuits and the injured may file suits for their medical expenses, lost wages, impairment, pain and sufferering, and other damages that Texas law allows.
It is unclear how much, if any, insurance coverage Owens had and whether coverage will be excluded. It is also unknown who owned the vehicle and whether he is liable. Finally, it is doubtfult that Owens had assets that will be available to pay for the huge damage claims that will be presented. Given his age, the possibility that the vehicle was stolen, and other factors, collecting judgments will be difficult if not impossible.
I attended the University of Texas in Austin, graduating in 1976. I have been to legal conferences and events in the downtown area over the years and my daughter attended this festival a few years ago, so this tragic story seems close to home.
If you or a loved one have been injured because of a drunk driver, call my office immediately at 817-885-8000 to discuss ways that I can help you recover money for your injuries.