AUSTIN -- A suspected drunken driver crashed through barriers at a film and technology festival, killing two people and injuring 23 others, police said Thursday.
The tragedy outside the Mohawk, a popular bar and live music venue, cast a pall over downtown Austin as the Texas city plays host to the annual South By Southwest festival. The fest draws tens of thousands of people for its program of films, music and interactive technology.
Police Chief Art Acevedo said officers initially tried to pull over the driver at a gas station on an Interstate 35 service road around 12:30 a.m. CT. The driver fled the wrong way down a one-way street and turned onto a street that had been closed after a concert. Acevedo said the Toyota sedan hit pedestrians at a "high rate of speed."
Acevedo said the driver then hit a man and a woman on a moped, then a taxi and a van, before stopping the vehicle and fleeing on foot. The driver was pursued, tasered and taken into custody.
The two people on the moped were killed. Five of the injured are in critical condition, Acevedo said.
"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 said the driver will be charged with two counts of capital murder. University Medical Center Brackenridge's emergency room Medical Director Chris Ziebell said the driver was treated for minor injures and released into police custody. Ziebell said a blood-alcohol test was taken but did not release the results.
Eight patients were taken to UMC Brackenridge. Ziebell said three people are in serious condition and in the ICU. Two people have head injuries, and the director said he has a "great deal of concern and worry" for them.
"These are some of the worst injuries that we see," he said.
Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell released a statement sending thoughts and prayers to victims and their families. "Austin Police Department is investigating this matter as allegedly involving drunk driving," the statement said. "If this is true, this fact angers me. Drunk driving is never acceptable, and can lead to deadly consequences."
South By Southwest began 27 years ago as a music festival. It has expanded to include film, interactive technology, education and ecology presentations, and its nine-day run is expected to draw more than 70,000 attendees. Austin's Sixth Street, about three blocks from the crash scene, is packed each night Mardi Gras-style with festival-goers bouncing between the bars and nightclubs where many of the more than 2,000 musical acts during the event play.
Festival events included movie premieres for actors from Robert Duvall to Seth Rogen and musical performances from Coldplay to Lady Gaga. And each day has dozens of panel sessions with appearances from speakers including Mark Cuban, actress Lena Dunham and Chelsea Clinton as well as former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden of government surveillance fame and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (both who spoke via satellite).
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by the tragic accident that took place last night here in Austin," festival organizers said in a statement, adding that the crash will result in some scheduling changes. "We appreciate and commend the first responders as well as the city agencies who so quickly sprung into action.
Contributing: Mike Snider, Kim Hjelmgaard and John Bacon, USA TODAY