Victim Services

APD Police Chief Art Acevedo at a press conference Thursday morning addressing the car incident from the night before that left two people dead and 23 injured at the intersection of Red River and 9th streets amid SXSW activities.

Photo Credit: Shweta Gulati | Daily Texan Staff

One year after a car drove through a crowd of people at South By Southwest, killing four and injuring more than 20 others, all the victims of the crime have received funds to help with the recovery process.

Members of the Austin Community Foundation worked with SXSW, Austin Police Department’s Victim Services Division and the American Red Cross to set up the SXSW Cares Fund, which has helped cover costs that are not covered by insurance companies and other resources.

“The SXSW Cares Fund shows how caring Austin is as a community and how much the festival is loved around the world,” said Robin Bradford, director of communications and advancement for the Austin Community Foundation. “For the past year, we’ve depended on the Austin Police Department’s victims services counselors who work closely with the individuals and families most affected to get funds out to cover expenses not covered by other victims funds.”

People and companies began donating to the fund the night of the crash because they wanted to give and help the victims, Bradford said. The SXSW Cares Fund reached a total amount of $254,045 and immediately started giving that money to victims. 

Bradford said approximately $80,000 have been given to victims. The remaining funds are still available for victims to request. 

Gregory Cerna, electrical engineering and computer science junior, sustained injuries as a result of the crash and said the funds he received helped cover the costs of his medical bills.

Cerna said he will not be returning to the festival this year but will possibly go back after the trial ends for Rashad Owens, man accused in the crash, and when Cerna feels the case has been completely closed. 

“Ever since everything has died down and my concussion got better, I kind of checked out of it,” Cerna said.

Immediately following the incident, APD’s Victim Services provided all 28 victims with a $500 gift card for immediate expenses and counselors to assess their needs and help them fill out requests for funds, said Kachina Clark, manager of APD’s Victim Services. 

Assistance will be available to victims until the fund runs out, Clark said.

“If victims decide in maybe a year that they want counseling  they didn’t before but now, they do then they can still access that,” Clark said. “It could be a challenging time for those victims and family members and those who witnessed the crime … so they should contact us if this brings up any memories from last year, and we can connect them with mental health services.”

The fund has covered victims’ medical bills, funeral expenses, rent and lost wages, Bradford said.

“The victims can still request funds and the foundation has responded to every request we received from victims, and we continue to provide funds to victims and their families,” Bradford said. “We view this as a long-term recovery and not as something that’s going to happen in a year, and we’re committed to preserving the SXSW Cares Fund for victims who need it.”

An open conversation about suicide is important so the act will not become stigmatized, said Amy Durall, a representative from Victim Services at the Travis County Sheriff’s Department.

On Tuesday, Durall addressed the Austin/Travis County Suicide Prevention Coalition, a group of mental health professionals and organizations that help prevent suicides. UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center represented the University at the event, which featured about 10 local groups.

Elizabeth Roebuck, the coalition’s leader, said these community networks are important to fostering a safety net to identify and prevent individuals who are contemplating suicide.

“The intent is to create a safety net for our community for those at risk of suicide,” Roebuck said.

Durall said the sheriff’s department responds to all types of crises, which includes assisting people who have just experienced a death in the family or who are contemplating or attempting suicide.

“With suicide in the law department, it becomes a different navigational path because it’s not a criminal event,” Durall said. “It’s hard for the families because it’s the first time they had to deal with law enforcement due to their situation.”

Durall said suicides are struggles for families because there are so many unanswered questions, and they do not initially want to believe what happened. But they are more receptive to her department, which offers a softer side of the sheriff’s department than an officer in uniform, she said.

“Our primary goal is crisis intervention trauma response so we can go get them to a place to start making decisions on their own,” Durall said. “We want to empower people to make the right decisions for them and their family.”

College-aged individuals have the highest rate of suicides, Roebuck said, adding that college students have more resources and support on their campuses than most other individuals contemplating suicide. She said 18- to 24-year-olds who are not in college, and do not have access to prevention resources, suffer from higher rates of suicide among young people.

Meetings among local and state suicide prevention groups help UT’s Mental Health Center to network with outside groups and expand support services, said Marian Trattner, a suicide prevention coordinator at the center.

“I came today to show my support of UT and a way to meet other professionals who do this in the community,” she said. “I learned about other resources for UT students and met professional contacts for me, like if I needed training.”