In the weeks after a suspected drunk driver plowed through a crowd of people at South By Southwest on March 13, service organizations have been left to decide how to distribute more than $180,000 in funds raised to assist victims and their families.
The Austin Police Department’s Victim Services Division, the Austin Community Foundation and the American Red Cross are working to evaluate the expenses of more than a dozen victims, whose injuries ranged from mild to critical.
“We’re assessing other needs they may have beyond what Crime Victims’ Compensation will cover or what their own insurance will cover,” said Kachina Clark, manager of APD Victim Services. “We are working with the Austin Community Foundation and the Red Cross because they have experience dealing with large-scale incidents and distribution of funds that are raised.”
The organizations will grant victims a portion of the funds based on their personal needs and available resources, Clark said.
“We’ll have to come up with some additional guidelines for distribution, but it’s going to be needs-based,” Clark said. “We’re still in the process of figuring it out.”
Robin Bradford, director of communications for the Austin Community Foundation, said more than 1,000 people and businesses have donated to the SXSW Cares Fund. The foundation helped set up the fund, along with SXSW and the Mohawk — the bar directly next to the crash site on Red River Street.
“We opened the fund in response to community outpouring,” Bradford said.
Many Austin-area businesses contributed, including Stubb’s BBQ, Juiceland and Home Slice Pizza.
In the weeks following the crash, APD’s Victim Services unit has worked directly with those injured, providing counseling services and assistance with applying for Crime Victims’ Compensation, which is offered through the Texas Attorney General’s office.
Those who apply for Crime Victims’ Compensation can be approved for benefits up to $50,000 per person, and those who are disabled as a result of a crime may qualify for an additional $75,000, according to the office’s website.
“Crime Victims’ Compensation will assist with medical bills and lost wages, but there’s a cap on that,” Clark said.
Shortly after the crash, each victim received $500 to cover immediate expenses, according to Clark. Now, counselors are in regular contact with victims to help them determine their current and future needs.
“You don’t know until insurance is billed what Crime Victims’ Compensation will cover,” Clark said. “Right now, this is so chaotic, and it was such a tragic event, that [victims] are just not sure at this point. This will be an ongoing process.”
Computer science sophomore Maria Belyaeva, who sustained multiple non-life-threatening injuries in the crash, said she doesn’t know much about how the funds will be distributed and is waiting to hear from APD.
“They’re still kind of deciding on who needs to get what based on things like who has been injured worse, who needs it more or who has the higher medical bills, and I’m not sure how it’s all going to work,” Belyaeva said.
Belyaeva said she appreciates the continued monetary support from APD.
“I’ve been in contact with them several times,” Belyaeva said. “They did give some immediate relief, which was nice.”