Guilty verdict in deadly South by Southwest festival crash

AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) — A Travis County jury has found Rashad Owens guilty of capital murder in the South by Southwest Festival crash that killed four in 2014. Since the state decided to not seek the death penalty, Owens will be sentenced to an automatic life in prison with no parole. The jury had the option to convict Owens on 1st degree murder and sentence him between 5-99 years in prison.

Jurors came to the decision after listening to four days of testimony from police officers to people who were injured in the crash. The defense rested their case on Thursday without calling any witnesses.

On March 13, 2014, Owens, 23, drove his vehicle the wrong-way on a one-way street, blowing by a barricade and into a crowd of people. DeAndre Tatum,18, Jamie West, 27, Steven Craenmehr, 35, Sandy Le, 26, were the four people killed in the crash and dozens more injured.

SXSW Crash Victims

In their opening statements Owens’ defense said it was never Owens’ intent for people to be injured and killed. Defense attorney Russ Hunt told the jury Owens was not familiar with Austin roads or the closures which happened during festivals like SXSW.

Police say a breathalyzer for Owens returned a blood alcohol content of .114, over the .08 legal limit. In earlier testimony, Andrew Bramwell said he, Owens, and another friend drove to Austin from Killeen. During the trip, Owens was drinking according to Bramwell. After arriving in Austin, Bramwell’s said Owens took his Honda Civic without his permission or knowledge. The 2012 Honda Civic was the car involved in the crash. Despite avoiding several questions from Mitchell during the field sobriety test, Owens ultimately admitted to drinking and driving.

Previous coverage of the trial

  • Day 1: Trial begins, first witnesses called
  • Day 2: Video of SXSW crash shows frantic aftermath
  • Day 3: Video of Owens’ field sobriety test shown
  • Day 4: Crash expert testifies

Crash reconstruction expert, Richard Harrington, testified Owens was going approximately 55 mph on the barricaded portion of Red River Street between 9th and 10th.  After colliding with a barricade and people at the 10th and Red River intersection, Harrington found Owens’ speed dropped to about 40 mph, but could not say definitively if it was the impact which slowed him or if he was braking. The 10th and Red River intersection is where DeAndre Tatum and Sandy Le were killed, and others injured.

Harrington said there was no sign of braking up until the final collision with a taxi cab at the 11th and Red River intersection, but said the vehicle’s “black box” did not save data from earlier travel along Red River.

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