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March 13, 2014

Police: Driver kills 2 at South by Southwest fest

AUSTIN — A man and woman on a moped were killed early Thursday when a suspected drunken driver fleeing police crashed through barricades at the South By Southwest festival in Austin and slammed into a crowd of festivalgoers, police said.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said the motorist also plowed into people gathered in front of an emptying nightclub around 12:30 a.m., injuring 23 people, five critically. He eventually crashed and tried to make a getaway on foot. A police officer shocked him with a stun gun and took him into custody, Acevedo said at a news conference.

The driver, whose name was not released, faces two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle.

The annual music, film and interactive conference draws tens of thousands to Austin each year, and the toll could have been much higher. The street had been packed with revelers just minutes earlier, but officials had cleared the area because it is a fire lane.

“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.”

Acevedo asked witnesses and those who may have taken video to contact police rather than post it on the Internet. He did not release the names of the victims.

Police said the incident unfolded as an officer on a drunken-driving patrol tried to stop the silver Toyota sedan at a gas station. The car took off, weaving between parked cars then driving at high speed the wrong way down a one-way street. Taking a right turn on Red River Street, the vehicle crashed through a barricade and narrowly missed a police officer.

The motorist struck some of his victims in front of The Mohawk, a club hosting Spin events during the five-day music conference. He then hit and killed the two people on the moped and hit a taxi cab before finally crashing.

Acevedo said there were no plans to change safety protocols at the festival due to the accident.

“We do these events very well, but you cannot stop a person who rather than face drunk driving charges decides to speed at a high rate of speed, go around a uniformed officer forcing him to run out of the way, then at a high rate of speed show total disregard for the sanctity of human life,” Acevedo said.

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