UPDATE: Police have confirmed that two people - one from the Netherlands - died after a car drove into a crowd of pedestrians at the South By Southwest festival.
The fatal crash, in which a driver smashed through temporary barricades set up for the film and music festival in Austin, Texas, occurred around 12.30am on Thursday.
Austin chief of police Art Axecedo said the two victims were pronounced dead at the scene. They were initially reported by police to be an adult male and an adult female who had been riding a moped struck by the vehicle.
A follow-up press conference at 10.30am in Austin revealed that a local female was pronounced dead on the moped while the male, originally from the Netherlands, was on a bicycle.
“We owe it to the victims and their families to gather the evidence we need to bring them justice,” said Axecedo. (Scroll down for full statement)
Travis County Emergency Medical Services worked with 25 patients, including the two deceased and five who were in critical condition.
The incident took place outside The Mohawk, a bar and live music venue, after a driver in a silver Toyota drove through the intersection of 9th Street and Red River Street, according to the Austin Police Department.
Acevedo said the driver will be charged with two counts of capital murder, as well as 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle.
He stated: “You cannot stop a person that decides rather than face potential drunk driving charges, at a high rate of speed, shows total disregard for human life. That’s why we will be charging two counts of capital murder.”
At a press conference, Acevedo and Austin Fire Department chief of staff Harry Evans said the incident began when a police officer attempted to stop a car on the intersection of I-35 and 9th.
The driver weaved through a Shell gas station and then drove into oncoming traffic on 9th Street. When police attempted to overtake the vehicle, the driver turned down Red River Street at a high rate of speed before smashing through barricades on Red River Street and striking multiple pedestrians.
The chase ended after the driver crashed into a parked van, after which he exited the vehicle and attempted to flee on foot. A police officer managed to overtake him on foot and tasered him before taking the suspect into custody.
Acevedo added: “Nothing like this has happened at SXSW in the seven years [I’ve] been chief officer.”
Sharing information on Twitter, the Austin Police Department said: “Individual is in custody. More details shortly. The names of the deceased will not be released until proper notifications have been made.”
Putting out a call for more information, it added: “If you witnessed, have video/photos of the incident @ Red River call (512) 974-5186. Do not tie this line up for any other reason.”
More information on the investigation will be released at 3pm on Thursday, according to police.
Art Axecedo, Austin chief of police
This morning at about 12.30am, a member of the Austin Police Department in a marked patrol unit working on overtime detail that we call Step here in Texas, looking for DWI drivers – people driving under the influence – initiated a traffic stop at the Shell gas station right up here on the southbound 35 frontage road at 9th Street.
The sole suspect driver of that vehicle, when the officer initiated the stop, turned on his turn station, very calmly drove into that gas station. The gas station, as you can image with all the activity around, was very busy. He’s in a smaller vehicle. He was able to weave his way through some of the vehicles.
He exited the gas station, made a right on east 9th Street and accelerated at a high rate of speed going the wrong way on a one-way street.
The officer in the police car turned on all his lights and immediately tried to overtake the vehicle. The suspect’s vehicle then made a right turn. As you can see, this street is closed. We had an officer in uniform working barricade control. He was forced to move out of the way to avoid being struck himself.
The suspect driver then accelerated at a high rate of speed down Red River Street and at a high rate of speed struck multiple pedestrians that had been on the street.
The suspect continued at a high rate of speed down Red River striking multiple people. At 11th Street, the suspect vehicle struck a moped with a male and female on the moped and also struck a taxi. He then crashed on the north-west corner into a parked van.
The suspect then exited the vehicle and attempted to flee on foot. The officer was able to overtake him on foot and was actually forced to taser him to take him into custody.
As a result of this person’s reckless and wilful disregard for the safety of the people of this city who were on Red River, we have had two individuals that were pronounced dead on the scene that were riding the moped. A male adult and a female adult. [This has since been revised by the police (see above)]
We also have an additional 23 victims. Out of those 23 victims, five are considered critical and the rest are walking wounded to moderate. They have been transported to area hospitals and Fire and EMS will talk about, as you can imagine, a very comprehensive response to the scene.
This suspect will be charged by the Austin Police Department with two counts of capital murder.
In the state of Texas, when you murder somebody in one event and it’s two or more people it is a capital offence and we will be filing two counts of capital murder. We have contacted the District Attorney’s office to respond out here with one of their Deputy Prosecutors.
He will also be charged with 23 counts of aggrevated assault with a vehicle. That’s all the information I have right now.
I want to say to anybody that is a witness – obviously we have a lot of them here that have come forward – but through social media we are hearing from people that they have witnessed this event and videoed this event. We ask you to please contact the Austin Police Department. Our live line is 512 974 5186.
I want to remind those people who have video that we have two individuals that have lost their lives and 23 others that have been impacted by this person’s criminal offence and I would urge you from a moral perspective to respect the integrity of the investigation. We want to bring justice to the victims of this crime and I would urge to not just put everything on YouTube which in this environment will probably not happen but I would ask that on behalf of the families of the two deceased individuals here and on behalf of the families of the 23 other folks that we would use that. Bring it through law enforcement. You can also email the Austin Police Department at firstname.lastname@example.org