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March 14th, 2014
09:43 AM ET

2 Killed When Suspected Drunk Driver Plows Car Into crowd at SXSW, Police Say

A crowded street at a popular festival in Austin, Texas, became a chaotic scene as a suspected drunk driver tore through the crowd, running over people and hitting other cars, leaving two people dead and others seriously injured.

Police eventually caught the driver after a foot chase, bringing him under control with a Taser. The 21-year-old suspect will be charged with two counts of capital murder, police said.

Authorities have not released names of the dead, but they were a Dutch man on a bicycle and a local woman on a moped, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said, correcting his earlier statement that the victims had been on a motorcycle.

MassiveMusic, a music agency with offices around the world, posted a statement on its website and Facebook page identifying the company's Amsterdam-based creative director, Steven Craenmehr, as a person killed Thursday in Austin.

"During the 8 years that Steven worked for MassiveMusic, we got to know him as an unstoppable force, full of life, love and laughter," the Facebook post said. "This is an irreplaceable loss for the MassiveMusic family, and we are grateful for the years we spent with him. Our thoughts are with Steven's family and friends."

People were jamming the street listening to music just after midnight Wednesday when the driver, attempting to flee police, plowed through a barricade into the crowd.

Close calls for many

Some people escaped by a matter of inches.

Pablo Vazquez said the suspect drove right past him.

"The car barely missed me ... I was less than a foot away," Vazquez told CNN's "New Day."

"I saw some folks die."

"It looked like something out of a movie," said Russ Barone. "A few people lying on the street ... with their friends around them trying to get them up, trying to get them back to life. Hopefully, they are."

He said the scene was grisly, with people bleeding in the streets.

"I've never seen nothing like it. I felt like I was at a war or something," Barone said. "I was down here for the music ... we were having the best time ever. And then it turned into the worst thing I've ever seen."

Dozens injured

Twenty-three others were initially hospitalized, some with multiple internal injuries. Most of the victims are in their 20s, said Dr. Christopher Ziebell, medical director at the University Medical Center Brackenridge emergency department.

As of Thursday evening, 15 of the 23 people hospitalized had been released, according to Austin police. Two patients remained in critical condition, three were in serious condition and three others remained hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.

Ziebell said it was fortunate the incident occurred so close to the hospital, and he applauded the Travis County paramedics, who had just undergone training for a similar scenario, for their response.

Wrong-way driver

The driver will face two counts of capital murder - Texas' highest offense punishable by the death penalty. The car hit pedestrians, a moped, a taxi, a bicycle and a van, Acevedo said.

The suspect also will face 23 counts of aggravated assault by vehicle, Acevedo said.

Austin police identified the suspect as Rashad Charjuan Owens. Police department Public Information Officer Jennifer Herber told CNN Thursday afternoon that formal charges against Owens were forthcoming.

The incident began when an officer noticed a man driving in the wrong direction on a one-way street shortly after midnight.

A patrol officer attempted to stop the car near a crowded gas station, Acevedo said. The driver, the chief said, acted as if he was pulling over into the gas station, but he continued through the parking lot and exited, accelerating down the street.

The officer attempting to pull him over couldn't follow him because the parking lot was so crowded, so he had to back his patrol car out, Acevedo said. Another officer working barricade control had to jump out of the driver's way as he accelerated for about two blocks, striking pedestrians and vehicles, the chief said.

A foot chase ensued, and an officer eventually caught the driver and used his Taser to subdue him, Acevedo said.

The incident lasted one minute, police said.

Horrific scenes

Photos and video posted to social media showed people sprawled on a street for about a block with first-responders kneeling over them. In one instance, paramedics are seen performing CPR.

Witnesses on a YouTube video said the car sped through the crowd, tossing some victims into the air and knocking others down.

Acevedo urged those posting videos on social media to turn them over to authorities instead.

South by Southwest is an annual event that features film, interactive and music festivals, and draws tens of thousands of people to the Texas capital every year.

In a statement on its website, SXSW organizers commended the first-responders and city agencies that assisted them and said their thoughts and prayer were with the victims and those affected.

"We will be making schedule and venue changes for programming in the surrounding area of last night's events. All other programming will continue as previously scheduled." the statement said.

CNN first learned of the incident via posts on Twitter.

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March 5th, 2014
05:34 AM ET

Fugitive and Whistleblower Edward Snowden to Speak from Russia at SXSW

Even though he can't set foot in the United States for fear of arrest, fugitive National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has joined the speakers' roster at this year's South by Southwest Interactive Festival.

Snowden, who fled the United States in June with thousands of top-secret documents, will appear via teleconference Monday from Russia for a discussion about how the tech community must defend itself against mass surveillance.

Snowden will chat with Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist with the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.

"The conversation will be focused on the impact of the NSA's spying efforts on the technology community and the ways in which technology can help to protect us from mass surveillance," an SXSW news release says.

Audience members will be allowed to ask questions, andThe Texas Tribune, a nonprofit media organization, intends to livestream the session.

Josh Baer, a tech entrepreneur who has been attending the festival for more than 15 years, said he is excited to hear what Snowden has to say.

"The news and the government each have so many different perspectives," Baer said. "It's always refreshing to get it straight from the source."

Hugh Forrest, director of SXSW Interactive, said it took more than three months to secure Snowden's participation and called it an essential part of this year's programming.

"The growth of social media has fueled so much of the growth of the online ecosystem, but the revelations from the summer of 2013 expose the costs and downsides of this growth," he said.

Forrest added that Snowden "wants to talk to a tech-focused audience about the importance of building the next generation of online tools that protect user privacy."

Privacy and government surveillance is a subplot of SXSW Interactive's programming this year, with other slated speakers to include journalist and civil liberties lawyer Glenn Greenwald as well as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Assange and Greenwald helped Snowden disseminate stolen NSA documents, and both will also appear via teleconference.

Greenwald moved to Rio de Janeiro, the hometown of his domestic partner, David Miranda, and Assange was granted diplomatic asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after Sweden sought to question him in connection with a sexual assault investigation.

Snowden, a former CIA employee and NSA contractor who fled the United States after leaking details of the American government's spy programs, was granted temporary asylum in Russia last year.

He faces felony charges of espionage and theft of government property in the United States, and has said he won't return until the U.S. changes its whistleblower-protection laws.

"Surveillance and online privacy look to be one of the biggest topics of conversation at the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival," a festival statement says. "As organizers, SXSW agrees that a healthy debate with regards to the limits of surveillance is vital to the future of the online ecosystem."

SXSW annually hosts film, music and interactive festivals, drawing tens of thousands of attendees to Austin. This year's 10-day affair begins Friday.

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