AUSTIN, Texas -- A speeding car drove into a packed crowd of pedestrians outside a downtown Austin nightclub during the SXSW music festival early Thursday morning, killing two bystanders and injuring 23.
The incident began shortly after midnight when a motorist being stopped on suspicion of driving while intoxicated sped away from police, broke through a barricade and headed the wrong way down a one-way street crowded with music revelers, police said.
The car slammed into a crowd standing near the Mohawk nightclub, striking two people on a motorized scooter, who were killed immediately, then hit a number of other bystanders. At least 10 people were taken to the hospital, five in critical condition.
Police hit the suspect with an electric stun gun, and he was taken into custody at the scene.
Jermaine Kilgore, public information officer for the Austin Police Department, told the Los Angeles Times that police initially tried to pull over the suspect several blocks away, near a gas station just off the interstate, and launched a pursuit when he refused to stop.
Kilgore said the identity of the suspect would likely be released at a media briefing scheduled at 10:30 a.m. in Austin. The man has not been formally charged, Kilgore said, but faces potential charges of capital murder, manslaughter and aggravated assault with a motor vehicle.
“We weren’t in pursuit," Kilgore said. "We were behind the vehicle, and it happened very quickly. From the time the vehicle evaded [the traffic stop] and the time he crashed was about a minute and a half.”
"There is only one person responsible for this, someone with no regard for the sanctity of life.,” Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo told reporters in a hastily called briefing. "Our focus is on gathering evidence and seeking justice for the people who lost their lives."
The incident happened at the height of the evening’s festivities during the South By Southwest festival, with a number of musical performances underway at clubs up and down the area near Red River Street and 10thStreet.
The street was instantly transformed into a scene of bloody mayhem, as emergency medical technicians rushed to aid the victims and police took the suspect into custody.
Jayda Luna, 21, said he was waiting in line hoping to score free tickets to see Tyler, the Creator when the car plowed through the crowd and slammed into the person standing next to Luna.
"I saw bodies fly into the air, and there was blood and it was unbelievable," said Luna, a junior at Texas State. "It was the most horrific thing I've ever seen in my entire life."
Luna said the impact was so great that it knocked the side mirror off the car and the man who was struck was thrown into Luna's girlfriend, 19-year-old Jasmine Rodriguez.
"We were inches from getting hit. Seriously, the car was right there," Luna said. "I didn't even have to extend my arm the whole way to touch that car, that's how close it was. It's a blessing we didn't get hit."
Luna, who lives in Austin, said the car seemingly came out of nowhere and was "going at a crazy speed."
"I don't know how anyone didn't hear it," he said. "We were right there and all of a sudden, boom, a car hit several people. It was going so fast."
"There was a guy a couple of feet away, he was hit and bleeding from his head. There was a guy behind me, I think his legs got hit," he said. "I was trying to comfort my girlfriend -- she was in tears, crying. I was trying to make her not look at it, but we had to walk through all the stuff to get to our car and there were bodies blocks away from the Mohawk."
Dozens are in shock and crying. It appears that they're are more than 3-4 people down outside of Mohawk. Crazy scene right now. #sxsw