Shock lingers after car’s deadly ride at South by Southwest festival
AUSTIN, Texas — Rashad Charjuan Owens was a music producer with hopes of stardom. He lived in Killeen, Texas, about 70 miles from this city’s famed South by Southwest Conference, the annual festival where the worlds of music, film and technology blur.
Police said an officer on drunk-driving patrol tried to stop a gray sedan about 12:30 a.m. Thursday. But the car took off, weaving, then accelerating the wrong way on a one-way street. It went through police barricades that were set up on Red River Street to protect pedestrians, then dashed through the entertainment district, where the bands X and TEEN had just wrapped up. Rapper Tyler the Creator was scheduled to perform at 1 a.m.
During the chaotic flight under pursuit by the police, the vehicle — which authorities said may have been stolen — hit a moped, a taxi and a bicyclist, then went onto a sidewalk and hit a van, police said. The driver took off on foot, they said, and two officers gave chase, eventually using a Taser to stun and subdue the suspect, whom they have identified as Owens.
By the time the ride had ended, two people — the bicyclist, who was an employee of a music company in the Netherlands, and an Austin woman who worked as a sales clerk at a local boutique — were dead. In all, 23 others, including the suspect, were injured; five were still listed in critical condition, police said.
“I saw bodies fly into the air, and there was blood and it was unbelievable,” said Jayda Luna, 21, a junior at Texas State University who was waiting in line to buy tickets when the person standing next to him was hit. “It was the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”
Formal charges are still pending but are expected to include two counts of capital murder and multiple counts of aggravated assault with a motor vehicle. Still unknown is the reason for an incident that shattered the equilibrium of one of the nation’s premiere festivals, an event that has helped define Austin as a counterculture mecca.
Owens described himself on his Facebook page as a father and an employee of fast-food stores. He says he recently earned a GED high school diploma from Alaska and attended a Florida university studying toward a degree in music production.
The Austin American-Statesman reported that the 21-year-old Owens performed under the stage name KillingAllBeatz, or K.A.B.254, and that he was the father of six young children.
Thursday was not Owens’ first encounter with the law. He has left a trail in public records from Texas to South Carolina, Alaska, Florida and back to Texas.
A search of public records shows Owens had several misdemeanor arrests out of the Fairbanks Fourth District in Alaska, including being charged as a minor under the influence of alcohol and criminal trespass. In October 2011, he was charged with driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident, the Fairbanks records show.
He pleaded guilty only to the DUI misdemeanor charge, and prosecutors dismissed the misdemeanor offense for fleeing, according to the filings.
Deputy court clerk Yvonne Bilodeau confirmed to The Times that Owens was twice convicted of criminal trespass in Killeen, which seems to have been his most recent home. In August 2010, he was arrested on suspicion of criminal trespass at Killeen High School, and in the second case, in January 2011, he entered a convenience store on South Fort Hood Street, an establishment from which he had previously been banned. The clerk recognized him and contacted police.
He served 60 days in jail on each conviction and was ordered to pay $324 in court costs and fines on each.
But music seems to have been his passion, and he made no secret of his hip-hop roots.
On Facebook, a photo of him posed next to a police car is accompanied by the words “WHAT THEY DREAD.” There is also this from his 21st birthday in July: “Thank god for letting me see another B-day facts are by 21 i would be die or in jail.” He goes on to note: “Happy to say am not die or in jail.”
A prayer service was scheduled Thursday evening, and bouquets appeared near the scene of the mayhem, but the festival vibe had clearly returned to the area around Red River and Ninth streets.
People were again drinking and partying and were heading to music shows in the same district where the incident had taken place almost a day earlier. Some of the events had been moved around.
A Ray Ban promotional booth gave free haircuts to a crowd of shaggy hipsters. Crowds stretched around the block on a sidewalk where hours earlier emergency personnel had administered first-aid. Stylish bicycles were again locked to racks, and buckets of beer sat outside the clubs, chilling in ice tubs.
A night earlier, the same street had been in a state of pandemonium.
“I’m looking down and I see this car screeching down the hill,” said Reese Williams, an Atlanta musician who was on a nearby balcony. “The car comes down the hill, hits a left and busts a barricade. There was a cop car right behind it, it just goes down the street and smacks whoever was in the street. It was like something out of ‘Grand Theft Auto,'¿" he said.
Mark Bay was biking to the festival, looking forward to seeing the Los Angeles punk band X perform at the Mohawk. But as he rode in Wednesday night, he began to suspect that something was wrong. More than just wrong, seriously wrong.
“It was quiet, too quiet,” he said Thursday. “I got there like 20 minutes after it happened and it was chaos. This is the first time something like this has happened.”
Natalie Nichols, who drove in to the festival from Dallas, said: “I came here just for the shows at Mohawk; it’s my first time here. I’m freaked out by it. There were so many innocent people.”
The bicyclist who died at the scene was identified as Steven Craenmehr, 35, of the Amsterdam-based music booking and promotion agency MassiveMusic.
The company released a statement on its website that read: “It is with great sadness that we announce the sudden passing of our close friend and colleague Steven Craenmehr, 35, on March 13th, 2014 at SXSW. During the 8 years that Steven worked for MassiveMusic, we got to know him as an unstoppable force, full of life, love and laughter.
“This is an irreplaceable loss for the MassiveMusic family and we are grateful for the years we spent with him. Our thoughts are with Steven’s family and friends.”
The second fatality was identified as Jamie Ranae West, 27, of Austin. She was married and worked as a sales clerk at Leighelena Boutique.
Shon Cook, Jamie’s mother, a resident of Garrett, Ind., held back tears when talking about her daughter on the phone.
“She was beautiful and warm,” she said. “She was excited about life and art. She loved her family and her family loved her.”
Times staff writers Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston, Tina Susman in New York, and Saba Hamedy, Michael Muskal and Andrea Chang in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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