Police: Wrong-way driver almost hits SXSW-goers downtown

Stefanie Marie Espinosa (Austin Police Department)
Stefanie Marie Espinosa (Austin Police Department)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — People were hitting the hood of a woman’s car as she rolled through a busy downtown Austin intersection during SXSW early Thursday morning.

According to an arrest affidavit, Stefani Espinosa, 36, was driving southbound in the northbound lane of Red River Street at roughly 1:48 a.m. when an officer manning a barricade at the intersection of Red River and East Tenth Street noticed her vehicle rolling through the intersection. People walking on the east curb line of Red River began yelling and hitting Espinosa’s vehicle before it hit the curb, making a sudden stop.

“If [her foot] was on the gas more, she could’ve possibly run through this,” says Rakim Jackson, who witnessed the incident as he was working at Cheer Up Charlies. “There was a line over there getting in for the Mohawk venue, so it could’ve been worse but God forbid.” Jackson

Stefanie Marie Espinosa (Austin Police Department)
Stefanie Marie Espinosa (Austin Police Department)

When the officer made contact with her, he noticed she was lethargic and had slurred speech. Espinoza told him she had fallen asleep because she had taken medication. She said she knew she wasn’t supposed to drive while on it, but thought she’d be OK.

Espinosa was booked on a driving while intoxicated charge and is currently being held in the Travis County Jail on a $20,000 bond. According to court documents, Espinosa has been arrested more than three times on driving while intoxicated charges.

In 2014, Rashad Owens drove through a crowded, barricaded street during the festival killing four and injuring many more. He was convicted of capital murder.

Since the 2014 crash, police have upped the number of officers at barricades and have shut down more streets surrounding areas that host SXSW events. Police say in this more recent case, it proves their plans have worked.

“We feel that this was the whole point of us having these barricades; for individuals that make these poor decisions and go downtown and drive intoxicated,” Assistant Chief Jason Dusterhoft with Austin police says.

Dusterhoft says while adding additional barricades could be difficult, they’re still going to look at the incident to see if there are areas that can be improved upon.

“With the traffic being as it is now, that would just make it even worse, the congestion,” Dusterhoft says. “You want to take safety first and I think we are, which is why we’re adding the vehicles, why we’re adding the extra officers, why we’re making sure we have a very in-depth traffic plan. We’re going to do an after action review where we are complete with this and say what can we do next time to make it better.”

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