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Two People Died At SXSW Last Night in a Car Accident That Injured 23

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Shortly before one o’clock on Thursday morning, a car turned onto Red River in Austin—a street lined with rock clubs and music venues, and one that was barricaded off for five blocks to allow pedestrians and cyclists to move freely—and struck and killed two people who were getting onto a moped. Before the car stopped, it had driven through the crowd, leaving the total number of injured at 23. 

That’s a staggering number of people to be struck by one driver, and it’s hard to imagine the circumstances leading up to the incident. According to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, the driver had been stopped for DWI on the I-35 access road, and chose to flee the scene. As the Daily Texan reports

In a joint press conference, Acevedo and Harry Evans, Austin Fire Department chief of staff, said the incident began when an APD officer initiated a traffic stop outside the Shell Gas Station on the intersection of I-35 and 9th streets. The driver weaved through the gas station lot and accelerated against the flow of traffic on 9th Street. When APD officers tried to overtake the vehicle, the driver took a right turn down Red River Street at a “high rate of speed,” Acevedo said.

This is an unprecedented thing to happen at SXSW, where the newsworthy incidents tend to involve fans tearing down fences, and the common problems tend to be overcrowded venues. Longtime Austin music writer Michael Corcoran said on Twitter shortly after the accident that this is the first fatality of its kind at SXSW; Chief Acevedo said that he’d never seen anything like it in his seven years on the job. 

The city of Austin has developed a traffic plan that works for SXSW over the years—closures of many downtown streets, especially those with the bulk of the foot traffic, like Sixth Street and Red River, have successfully limited these incidents in the past. 

Our hearts certainly go out to the families of those killed and injured, and our best wishes are with those who are in the hospital. As people both in downtown Austin and on the Internet expressed their shock, the sentiment that was hard to shake—and familiar to anyone who’s spent time at the music portion of SXSW—is that this could have easily been any of them. The intersection of 10th and Red River, where the accident occurred, is a particularly well-trafficked intersection, and one at which people, because of the barricades and the masses of people, feel safe. The people on the moped were, presumably, on their way home after a fun night out, and the dozens of other people struck were similarly attracted to the area for a good time.

All of which leaves the next few days of SXSW in a strange place. Canceling events probably wouldn’t help anything—it’s hard to imagine what that would solve, at any rate, with tens of thousands of people in Austin specifically to go to those events—but it’s equally hard to picture anyone feeling good about performing, serving, or reveling at free-beer parties all day long on the same street where people were killed the night before. There’s no solution to that problem, but these things cast a dark cloud over the massive party that is SXSW. It’s pointless to cancel—and probably not even particularly viable—but tacky to continue. 

One might hope, ultimately, that the next few days of SXSW are a bit more sober than the festival tends to be. At the very least, it’d be respectful of the dead and injured for the bands that play those free-beer parties to take a moment and consider the gravity of what’s happened. And while this incident appears to be the sort of outlier for which it’s impossible to prepare, it’s nonetheless also an opportunity for SXSW and the brands that sponsor it to consider the culture of excess that the festival, as it’s currently set up, encourages. A little bit more sobriety and consideration won’t cost anyone at SXSW, anyway—and last night, too many people already paid a high price. 

(stock image of 10th and Red River from Flickr)

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  • MMM

    ” … and it’s hard to imagine the circumstances leading up to the incident.”

    I live a few blocks west of downtown Austin. It is very easy for me to imagine the events that led up to this. SXSW used to be a serious event for people interested in multi-media, film, and music; now, it has essentially turned into a protracted Mardi Gras. That attendees are referred to as “revelers” sort of says it all. They come here to drink. Everything else falls second.

    • I thought that the first half of SXSW was the informational part of the event with all the tech seminars and multimedia events for professionals, and then the shit-fest begins after all that.

      Or are you saying that the first half of SXSW has also turned into a shit-fest?

  • Lisa

    Everyone I know who attends sxsw Still considers it a serious music event and an opportunity to discover new music. Excessive drinking accompanies any festival, but most likely wasn’t the cause of this tragedy. They police attempted to stop the driver of that vehicle, who was presumed dui, on the I-35 access road. We don’t even know that he was even an attendee. I’m confused why the event would be blamed for this. He just happened to turn off the interstate into a busy area. He likely did that hoping the crowds would prevent the cops from catching him.

    • Lisa

      I meant to say, the excessive drinking happening at the festival wasn’t the cause of this. Obviously the driver (who likely wasn’t an attendee) was excessively drinking (or excessively taking some other substance.

  • Guest

    Car Accident?

  • Tom Wald

    Correction: “it’s nonetheless also an opportunity for SXSW and the brands that sponsor it to consider the culture of excess that the festival, as it’s currently set up, encourages” ==>
    “it’s nonetheless also an opportunity for all of us to consider the culture of excess that our car-focused transportation system, as it’s currently set up, encourages”

    While the driver of the car is suspected of drinking alcohol, we do know for certain that he was driving a car. We also know that we provide few alternatives to getting around our city other than driving a car. When we require through government, business, neighborhood association, church, and cultural obligations that most people get around by car, we will inevitably put someone behind the wheel who is not suited to drive. Our excessive car culture is complicit in this tragedy, through and through.

    (This however, does not take away culpability of the driver.)

    • William Andrew McWhorter

      Well if you’re going to contrive a neat little fiction based upon unconfirmed individual circumstances and motivations then so will I.

      The suspect is reportedly an African-American male, so we all know that it is unlikely that he lives in Austin; he was probably from out of town, unaware that Austin cops won’t typically beat the crap out of people like himself that meekly surrender. If only somebody would have told him that Austin wasn’t like that, then surely he wouldn’t have run away and this whole thing could’ve been avoided. Clearly our entire society is complicit in the events. The end. Oh! Oh! Oh! But even though I just said that society is to blame, the individual is also to blame. And his mother raised him poorly, that makes her an accomplice. And his pet rock died when he was 9. I’m sure that he was emotionally scarred.

      (It’s so easy to write paragraph-long absurdist internet fiction. And fun, too, don’t you think?)

      • KoreyAusTex

        The guy was from Killen, possibly ex-military.

  • SpeedyGonzo

    It’s not just SXSW that is creating a powder keg of excess, it’s the downtown Austin drinking district in general. Those of us who live in Austin know that the amount of violent crime is increasing as the city grows from a sleepy little college town to an international player. Just last week, two young ladies were assaulted on their way home from a night out on E. 6th. http://www.keyetv.com/news/features/top-stories/stories/woman-knocked-unconscious-downtown-austin-speaks-out-16662.shtml One month before that, two guys got beat up by a group of idiots on the same street. http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=c54_1391238468

    As for your criticism of SXSW and it’s sponsors, Dan Solomon, I know you are one freelance writer, but perhaps your editor should have thought about how hypocritical it comes off when a story on its website says that SXSW and its sponsors need to think about their culture of excess. Texas Monthly is as complicit in the promotion of the festival as any other media outlet. One only needs to read the Texas Monthly Twitter feed to see that the magazine has been encouraging folks to attend all month. All of us in Austin have conspired to create a culture of binge drinking where bad mistakes can happen. It’s really a miracle that it took 23 years for something like this to occur. We all, including Texas Monthly which is headquartered in Austin, need to consider whether a giant drinking playground is worth the downside. I have a feeling those making money off of it will want to keep the status quo.

  • KoreyAusTex

    It struck and killed the girl on the moped and killed a Dutch guy on a bicycle, both people on the moped were not killed.

  • May not renew my subscription.

    Terrible article. What a waste of energy.

  • Usually when there is a tragedy it’s custom to drink more, not get sober.

  • TallTexan2

    Top 10 Cities for Drunk Driving Violations, according to Insurance.com:

    1. San Diego, CA

    2. San Jose, CA

    3. Charlotte, N.C.

    4. Phoenix, AZ

    5. Columbus, Ohio

    6. Indianapolis, Ind.

    7. Los Angeles, CA

    8. San Francisco, CA

    9. Austin, TX