South By Southwest turns serious

Posted by David Menconi on March 13, 2014 

AUSTIN, Texas – Wednesday afternoon, I very nearly witnessed a tragedy in downtown Austin. Three kids who looked to be about 12 years old were riding skateboards up Red River Street, and they darted through a red light and in front of an oncoming truck on Seventh Street.

The truck had to stop so suddenly that it violently stalled out, creating another traffic jam on Austin’s crowded downtown streets. The skateboarders continued on their merry way, leaving much swearing and horn-honking in their wake. Just another vehicle-pedestrian near-miss at South By Southwest.

That was stupid. Two blocks away and 10 hours later, however, something happened that was downright evil. Early Thursday morning, an allegedly drunk driver fleeing police the wrong way down a one-way street crashed through a barrier and plowed through a crowded street. Two people were killed and 23 injured, five of them severely.

Several other vehicles were hit before the driver got out and fled on foot. Police arrested him nearby and reportedly had to use a taser to subdue him.

Austin police identified the suspect as Rashad Charjun Owens, 21, from Killeen – a military-base town north of Austin. The suspect also performs under the name K.A.B254 in a crew called Strictly Mafioso.

“When someone acts intentionally,” Austin chief of police Art Acevedo said at a Thursday morning press conference, “it’s very hard to stop.”

This year marks the 27th edition of South By Southwest, a multi-media festival that draws huge throngs to Austin every March. But it’s the first homicide in the event’s history. Acevedo has already announced that he intends to file capital-murder charges.

Usually, Thursday is a super-busy bustling day at South By Southwest. But in the wake of the previous night’s horrific events, it was unusually quiet and subdued on the streets early Thursday – all the heat was on social media, where eyewitnesses described a horrific scene.

It was hard not to feel shaken. Over the years, I’ve walked down that block of Red River at least a hundred times, including several times on Wednesday. There but for the grace of God…

Before things turned ugly, I saw some very nice music Wednesday night. But recounting that now seems trivial and inappropriate, so I’ll catch up on that later; and update here as more information becomes available. Meantime, be good to each other, everybody.

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