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Motorist charged with murder in crash near Texas festival

A victim who was struck by a vehicle on Red River Street during the SXSW festival is assisted by paramedics and bystanders in downtown Austi
A victim who was struck by a vehicle on Red River Street during the SXSW festival is assisted by paramedics and bystanders in downtown Austi

By Eric M. Johnson

(Reuters) - A drunken motorist suspected in a high-speed chase during which two people were killed and nearly two dozen injured near Texas' South by Southwest festival, told police he fled because of outstanding warrants and feared prison, court documents showed on Friday.

Rashad Charjuan Owens, 21, from Killeen, Texas, was charged with one count of capital murder and is being held on $3 million bond, the Austin Police Department said on its website. Police have said additional charges could be added later, such as numerous counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle.

He was subdued by an officer using a stun gun after the incident near SXSW in Austin.

SXSW, running from March 7 to 16, began as a music event in 1987. It features technology conferences, a film festival and music shows that draw tens of thousands of people to the Texas capital annually.

Many roads in downtown Austin are closed to traffic each night of the event as thousands take to restaurants, bars, clubs and movie theaters. Police set up numerous checkpoints in the area to look for people suspected of driving under the influence.

Owens was asked to pull over at a sobriety check point and instead sped away from a police car. He smashed through a police barricade and then plowed down people, some of them lined up outside a nightclub, over a span of city blocks.

The suspect then tried to flee on foot but was subdued by an officer with the stun gun.

The two people killed were a Texas woman who was riding on a moped and a Dutch man who was riding a bicycle, police said.

The pair suffered "obvious gross trauma and deformities to their bodies," according to an arrest warrant affidavit filed in a Travis County district court on Friday.

Police reviewed video of the incident from dashboard-mounted squad car cameras showing Owens's Honda "accelerating into crowds, not simply crowded areas but crowds of people who are hit by the car and flung into the air."

Owens drove "for almost three city blocks, accelerating into crowds and does not use brakes, as in the video there are no brake lights visible from the rear of the Honda," the affidavit said.

Owens told police he saw police lights in his mirror and "got scared because he has warrants" and did not want to go to prison for years "for something he didn't do."

The "kidnapping warrants" were related to a custody battle for his daughter.

He had a blood alcohol level of .114, over the legal limit of .08, breath test results showed.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Ken Wills)

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