Several Madison residents went to Austin for the music, films, food and party atmosphere. The SXSW Festival draws tens of thousands of visitors each year. When a suspected drunk driver’s car plowed into a crowd of pedestrians killing two people, they were there.
“We were just like, 'What was that?' There was something really wrong going on down there, and it just looked like a ghost town where there would have been thousands of people in the street. For those two blocks it was just a ghost town all the way down, this kind of eerie disaster,” Madison resident Adam Braus said.
The driver of the car, 21-year-old Rashad Charjuan Owens, is facing two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle. The car allegedly driven by Owens hit and killed a man on a bicycle and woman on a moped.
Twenty-three other pedestrians were hit and sent to hospitals. Two are in critical condition with life-threatening head injuries.
Former Madison Alder Bridget Maniaci was also in Austin for the festival.
“I wanted to come down to SXSW to take a look at the city and how they handle large events like this,” Maniaci said.
She said as soon as the car drove into the crowd, social media lit up and spread information around the country.
“It is a very scary thing. I woke up to many text messages and a couple voice mails on my phone with friends and family who knew that I was close by wanting to find out if I had been there and if I was alright,” Maniaci said.
Braus, who was in Austin to promote Madison-based Bankmybiz.com, said events like this validate social media.
“I think we saw through this that when people say we’re more connected through social media that that is true and that people are being able to put important messages through the media like, 'I’m OK,'” Braus said.
Maniaci believes that, while the SXSW Festival is very well run and had good security, a lot will be learned from this incident.
“Here’s a city that put this on for many years and every year they go back and tweak it, much like Madison does with many of its large events, whether it is Iron Man or Taste of Madison or Halloween. So there’s always new lessons that can be learned and more things to look at. As perfect as you think a security plan is, clearly something can always go wrong,” Maniaci said.