A car evading a police sobriety checkpoint plowed into a crowd at high speed outside a nightclub in Austin on Thursday, killing two people and injuring 23 near the South by Southwest festival, police said.
Austin police said the man went the wrong way down Ninth Street after evading the checkpoint, turned onto Red River Street and drove several blocks, hitting many pedestrians before striking a scooter and killing its two riders, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
The two people killed were a Texas woman who was riding on a moped and a Dutch man who was riding a bicycle, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo told a news conference.
“This is an individual that showed no regard for the human beings that he plowed into in his attempt to get away,” Acevedo said of the suspect, whose name was to be released when he was formally charged later on Thursday.
Acevedo told reporters the suspect would face capital murder charges in the two deaths and 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle, the American-Statesman said.
Austin Mayor Lee leffingwell released a statement sending his thoughts and prayers to victims and their families. “Austin Police Department is investigating this matter as allegedly involving drunk driving,” the statement said. “If this is true, this fact angers me. Drunk driving is never acceptable, and can lead to deadly consequences.”
South By Southwest began 27 years ago as a music festival. It has expanded to include film, interactive technology, education and ecology presentations. Austin’s Sixth Street, about three blocks from the crash scene, is packed each night Mardi Gras-style with festival-goers bouncing between the bars and nightclubs where many of the more than 2,000 musical acts play during the event.
The tragedy outside the Mohawk, a popular bar and live music venue, cast a pall over downtown Austin as the Texas city plays host to the annual South By Southwest festival. SXSW draws tens of thousands of people for its program of films, music and interactive technology. SXSW director Roland Sensons said organizers were “stunned” by the tragedy but most programs would take place as planned.
“We feel an obligation to the people who have traveled here from all around the world to keep going with the event, “ he said.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by the tragic accident that took place night here in Austin,” festival organizers said in a statement, adding that the crash will result in some scheduling changes. “We appreciate and comment the first responders as well as the city agencies who so quickly sprung into action.”
An estimated 70,000 people swarm through the capital of the southern state for SXSW, which runs from March 7 to March 16.