How the SXSW Accident Exposes Event Safety Flaws

By Parrish Walton, March 13, 2014

“…Nobody wants to realize you’re just a drunk away from having two dead people and 20 injured and being on the national news.”

That’s what Rob Reiter, a perimeter security and retail and pedestrian safety expert, has to say after an alleged drunk driver plowed into the South by Southwest festival shortly after midnight March 13, killing two people initially (and later a third) and injuring more than 20 others.

The driver, 22-year-old Rashad Charjuan Owens of Killeen, Texas, was apprehended after being stunned by a police officer after he left the scene on foot. He was allegedly fleeing a DUI checkpoint and broke through barricades on a closed street for the SXSW music, film and interactive festival. He struck several people, including the two on a moped who later died.

The incident is not an isolated one where an out-of-control driver injures pedestrians, Reiter tells Atlantic Cities. In 2013, a man intentionally drove his car onto a Venice Beach boardwalk, killing one woman and injuring 11 more. In 2003, an 83-year-old man lost control of his vehicle as he drove through a crowded farmers market, killing 10 people and injuring 63 others.

Could Austin officials have done more to prevent this tragedy? Perhaps, Reiter says. For $400 apiece, removable steel bollards could be set up allowing cities to block any road. The cost, Reiter says, would be little compared to the devastating toll Austin now faces via prospective litigation and public relations costs.

Event planners are always thinking about ways events can be better, and while no one thinks a driver is going to plow through a crowded street, should they? Attendee safety should always be the No. 1 priority of any event planner, and sadly, the SXSW accident proves why.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Rodolfo Gonzalez

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