Mar 13, 2014 12:35 PM by David Randall

SXSW: Car hits crowd

AUSTIN, Texas - A suspected drunken driver faces two counts of capital murder after striking a crowd outside a downtown Austin, Texas, club being used as a venue for the South By Southwest music and digital festival, police said.

A man and a woman died and 23 others were injured - five of them critically - when the gray Toyota sedan plowed through a barricade close to The Mohawk just after 12:30 a.m. local time (1:30 a.m. ET).

Officials didn't immediately identify the driver or the two deceased.

Austin Police Officer Jermaine Kilgore said the driver was trying to evade police at the time of the crash.

Police attempted to stop the suspect for a traffic violation, but he fled the wrong way down a one-way street at high speed, Kilgore said. The suspect then made a turn on Red River Street, which was barricaded off for the festival.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said the driver fatally hit two people on a moped, and also smashed into pedestrians who were leaving a club where a concert had been held, The Associated Press reported.

The chief said the man also struck a cab before jumping out of his car and trying to run. Officers shocked him with a stun gun and took him into custody.

"We had a large crowd," Acevedo said at a 2:30 a.m. news conference. "I just thank God that a lot of the folks had already been pushed on the sidewalk or this could have been a lot worse."

Lt. Brian Moon said 23 people were taken to area hospitals, five of them in critical condition. Thirteen of the victims were treated and released.

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."

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 festival.

A man directing traffic at an intersection when the accident occurred told NBC affiliate KXAN he jumped out of the way when he saw the Toyota sedan 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.'"

Scott Jakota, a musician from Indiana, told the Austin American-Statesman that he was one of the first hit by the car. He described the car gunning down the street and then his body being "thrown up in the sky."

He was being treated for a leg injury, the newspaper said.

In a statement, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell expressed his condolences to the victims and said he was angered over the allegations of drunken driving.

"Drunk driving is never acceptable, and can lead to deadly consequences." Leffingwell said.



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