SXSW crash suspect faces 20 new charges

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The suspect in the downtown Austin crash at South by Southwest that killed four people faces multiple new charges.

Prosecutors charged 21-year-old Rashad Owens on Tuesday with 20 separate charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The most serious charge against Owens is still capital murder.

“The state wants to cover all their bases and make sure they can prove this case any number of ways and he’d still get prison,” said attorney Mindy Montford.

The paperwork on those 20 charges of aggravated assault say 15 of the victims were standing in the street in the 900 block of Red River.

A block later, a couple was hit at 10th and Red River. One of them thrown 15 feet.

The final three charges came at 11th and Red River where everything ended. A taxi cab driver and his passenger were hurt, along with Evan West, who was on a motorcycle with his wife, Jaime. She was killed.

Each assault charge could carry up to a 20 year sentence. Capital murder would be life in prison no parole.

Montford says some people around the courthouse don’t agree with that charge.

“They think capital murder may be an overcharge by the state,” she said.

Montford says proving capital murder as opposed to 1st degree murder requires very specific elements on intent. And with a thick stack of charges, Montford says the state may not need a capital charge to put Owens away forever.

“Some people think life might be sufficient,” she said, “and why go for capital?”

A capital conviction would only be necessary if the state wants the death penalty, and that decision has not yet been made.

Owens remains in police custody after a district court judge set his bail at $3 million.

IN DEPTH: SXSW Crash
After being treated and released for minor injuries sustained in the crash, Owens agreed to a breath test. It showed his blood-alcohol content as .114, according an arrest affidavit. The legal limit in Texas in .08.

The officer who tried to stop Owens was looking for suspected drunken drivers when he spotted a 2012 gray Honda Civic that didn’t have its headlights turned on, the arrest warrant says. The officer then initiated the traffic stop after Owens made a turn out of a wrong lane, nearly colliding with a police cruiser, the warrant said.

By that time, Owens was in the southbound lanes of the Interstate 35 frontage road near Ninth Street. Owens pulled the car he was driving into a Shell gas station but then continued on, driving the wrong way on Ninth Street, the affidavit said.

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Owens told officers he saw the lights in his mirror and got scared because he had warrants out for his arrest and did not want to go to jail, the document said. Owens said he had a kidnapping warrant and told police he was in a custody battle over his daughter, the warrant said.

After driving the wrong way down Ninth Street, Owens rammed through a barricade at Red River Street set up to divide SXSW crowds and traffic, forcing another police officer manning the roadblock to dive out of the way.

While reviewing video of the crash, police say Owens accelerated into crowds of people for nearly three blocks along Red River Street and did not hit his brakes, the document said.

The warrant says video “shows the Honda accelerating into crowds, not simply crowded areas but crowds of people who are hit by the car and flung into the air.”

At the intersection of 11th and Red River, Owens’ car slammed into a cyclist, a motorcycle and a taxi. Police say he continued on, driving onto a sidewalk and into a parking lot where it struck a van. Owens then ran from the vehicle, according to the affidavit.

An Austin police officer was able to catch up to Owens and used a stun gun on Owens to stop the pursuit and arrest him, the warrant said.

Jamie West, 27, of Austin, was killed when the car Owens was driving struck the motorcycle she was riding on with her husband. Steven Craenmehr, 35, of the Netherlands was also killed. He was riding a bicycle when the car crashed into him. Craenmehr was in Austin for SXSW.

Sandy Le, 26, died days later from injuries she sustained in the crash.

A fourth victim, DeAndre Tatum, died March 27 from injuries he sustained after Owens’ car plowed through a crowd of people waiting for a South by Southwest concert earlier this month. The crash killed three others and injured dozens more.

Tatum, 18, had been in critical condition since the crash on March 13.

His girlfriend, 19-year-old Curtisha Davis, also suffered critical injuries including broken bones and a neck injury in the crash. She was released from the hospital March 18.

Owens pleaded guilty in November 2011 to intoxicated driving after a hit-and-run incident in Alaska. Records show Owens was charged with misdemeanor DWI and leaving the scene of an accident after an incident Oct. 17, 2011, in Fairbanks. The prosecution dismissed the second charge at the time.

Owens also faced 2012 charges in Alaska of criminal mischief, and a warrant was issued for him after he failed to appear in court. In 2010, meanwhile, he was arrested in Texas by Killeen Independent School District police for criminal trespassing and pleaded guilty.

Information from the Associated Press was included in this report.

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