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Chaos and Crowd Safety At SXSW

Two people were killed and another 23 were injured Wednesday, March 12, after a suspected drunk driver plowed through a barrier outside the Mohawk night club in Austin, TX. The popular spot is one of dozens that host events and concerts at the South By SouthWest festival, which wraps up in Austin on March 16.

Two people were killed and another 23 were injured Wednesday, March 12, after a suspected drunk driver plowed through a barrier outside the Mohawk night club in Austin, TX. The popular spot is one of dozens that host events and concerts at the South By SouthWest festival, which wraps up in Austin on March 16.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo told USA Today that police initially tried to pull over the driver at a gas station on I-35 around 12:30 a.m. CT. The driver then drove his Toyota Sedan in the wrong direction down a one-way street, then turned onto a street that was closed due to the festival, hitting the crowd at a “high rate of speed.” The driver struck two people on a moped and a taxi before exiting the vehicle and trying to flee on foot. Police arrested the driver shortly after and are charging him with two counts of capital murder for killing the man and woman on the moped.

The festival welcomes more than 70,000 attendees annually to Austin, with the bulk of the events taking place at the Austin Convention Center. However, because the city draws crowds year round to its many live music venues, the festival also hosts showcases in nightclubs like the Mohawk throughout the city.

SXSW officials were on scene shortly after the incident, directing festival goers away from the area as they left the various nightclubs along Red River Street, SXSW managing director Roland Swenson said in a statement Thursday.
Despite the incident, SXSW events will still run for the remainder of the week as planned, Swenson said.

“The SXSW staff is stunned and deeply moved by the events of last night…To avoid confusion, we plan to carry on with our scheduled daytime events at the Austin Convention Center in order to serve our tens of thousands of participants during this tragic time. All of the SXSW staff and volunteers reported for their regular duties this morning and will continue working today on the event. We are contacting all of the venues to find out if they have made any decisions about their operations that might impact our visitors,” said Swenson in his statement.

Over the past few years, Pro Sound News (and more recently, Music Festival Business) reported on unexpected tragedies that occur at these large scale festivals and outdoor concerts. While this incident isn’t directly related to past incidents such as stage collapses, it still reminds festival crews and participants to be wary of safety during these events.

In his statement, Swenson touched on the emotional impact that this incident has on SXSW:

“Despite all of our preparations for dealing with a major incident during SXSW, nothing could really prepare us for how this feels. As much as we would like to just go home and spend time absorbing the shock of this horrific event, we feel our best use is to continue to operate today. One of the fatalities was a SXSW registrant, a gentleman from the Netherlands. Our thoughts and prayers are with the injured and with the families of the fatalities.”

To read more on safety preparation at festivals, check out Music Festival Business’ recent article on the topic at http://www.prosoundnetwork.com/article/certifying-the-stage/17150

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