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Driver Faces Murder Charges After Car Hits Crowd at SXSW Club

A suspected drunken driver faces capital murder charges after striking a crowd outside a downtown Austin, Texas, club used as a venue for the South By Southwest digital conference, police said.

A man and a woman died and 23 others were injured — two of them critically — when the gray Honda Civic plowed through a barricade close to the Mohawk just after 12:30 a.m. local time (1:30 a.m. ET) Thursday.

The driver has been identified as 21-year-old Rashad Charjuan Owens, reported NBC affiliate KXAN. Aside from two counts of capital murder, he also faces multiple counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle.

Image: Rashad Owens, driver in deadly SXSW wreck
Rashad Owens, driver of the vehicle in the deadly incident, is shown in a handout image from the Bell County (Texas) Sheriff's Dept. for a 2012 arrest.Courtesy of NBC News Waco

Police said the female, who lived locally, was killed while riding on the back of a moped. The moped driver was in stable condition.

The Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office identified the victims Tuesday night as Jamie Ranae West, 27, a married woman from Austin who worked as a clerk at Eliane et Lena boutique; and Steven Gerardus Hendrikus Craenmehr, a 35-year-old from Amsterdam, Holland who was a music director at the MassiveMedia company. He was a pedestrian, according to the medical examiner, but earlier reports said he was riding a bicycle.

Earlier reports had said both of those killed were on the moped.

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Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said the driver was trying to evade police at the time of the crash.

An officer with the DUI task force attempted to stop the suspect for a traffic violation, but Owens allegedly fled the wrong way down a one-way street at high speed. The suspect then made a turn on Red River Street, which was barricaded off for the festival.

Amid the mayhem, the driver struck a cyclist, two people on a moped, a taxi and went on the sidewalk on Red River Street before hitting a van, police said.

Acevedo said the man then jumped out of his car and tried to flee, but officers shocked him with a stun gun.

Police said 23 people were taken to area hospitals. Fifteen of those victims were released Thursday, while eight were still being treated, some with serious injuries.

The driver was also treated for wounds and released into police custody, Dr. Christopher Ziebell, the director of the emergency department at University Medical Center Brackenridge, told reporters Thursday morning.

His hospital was still treating two victims in critical condition and three victims in serious condition. The two in critical condition suffered head injuries and had been undergoing surgery, Ziebell said.

“We’re going to do our best for them,” he said, adding, “These are the worst injuries that we see.”

Emergency response after a car hit a crowd outside a club in Austin, Texas.
Emergency response after a car hit a crowd outside a club in Austin, Texas.Courtesy Colin Kerrigan

The other patients were being treated for spinal injuries and bone fractures. The victims were mostly in their 20s.

Before the accident, the street was teeming with SXSW festivalgoers. The concert venue, the Mohawk, was hosting musician Tyler, The Creator to coincide with the popular 10-day festival.

Image:
Bystanders tend to a man who was struck by a vehicle on Red River Street in downtown Austin, Texas, on March 12, 2014.Jay Janner / AP

A man directing traffic at an intersection when the accident occurred told KXAN that he jumped out of the way when he saw the Toyota Civic speeding down the street.

“As I was running, it just didn’t kick into me. It didn’t seem so real until I had to step over the bodies,” he said. “And all you could hear was people yelling and screaming, ‘He’s hit, she’s hit.’”

Acevedo said canceling the SXSW event, which draws tens of thousands of people each year, would be a “victory for evil.”

Festival organizers said Thursday morning they were going on as planned.

“As much as we would just like to go home absorbing the shock of this horrific event, we feel our best use is to continue to operate today,” said managing director Roland Swenson.

— Alastair Jamieson and Erik Ortiz

BreakingNews.com's David Wyllie and NBC News' Christopher Nelson contributed to this report. Updates to follow.