South By South West festival sued by car crash victims’ families

Four people were killed when Rashad Owens drove through a barricade at the Austin festival

South by Southwest (SXSW) festival is being sued over an incident in March where four people were killed and two dozen injured after drunk driver Rashad Owens smashed through a barricade and into a crowd of festival-goers.

According to the Associated Press, seven lawsuits have been filed against the two private companies that own the Austin-based festival, SXSW Holdings INC, and SXSW LLC, accusing them of serious safety lapses that led to Owens crashing through the barricade after fleeing from police following a traffic stop.

The lawsuits claim that the crash was “a preventable, foreseeable tragedy” and that “a festival organiser or traffic design consultant of ordinary intelligence would have anticipated the danger.” They maintain that festival planners did not adhere to “industry standards” for traffic control and should have erected “rigid barriers”.

“The only way to force a private company like South By Southwest to take action in the future is to hold them accountable for the failures in the past,” attorney Scott Hendler told Kxan.

Lawyers for SXSW released a statement expressing grief for the families. “What happened on Red River was a terrible tragedy, caused by Rashad Owens’ utter disregard of human life. Our hearts continue to ache for those injured and the families of those who lost their lives. We look forward to his prosecution for his awful crimes,” it read.

Rapper Rashad Owens has been in prison since the crash in March last year on capital murder charges. Authorities say his blood alcohol level was .114 when he crashed his Honda Civic though the barricade in Austin’s busy entertainment district. Texas’ legal driving limit is .08.

Earlier this year, a new report commissioned by SXSW festival following the incident brought up changes that could see the festival ban all unofficial events and performers. Changes suggested include “soft searching” street entrants for prohibited items; banning buskers from playing music during the festival; and restricting events that take place in adjacent parking lots” on the main 6th Street strip of the festival.

The report also stated that SXSW “will eventually need to make decisions about whether or not they can continue to exist in their current format and location.”