Just after midnight Thursday, Rashad Owens drove a car through the South By Southwest crowd on Red River Street and hit 23 people in less than a minute, according to police. Three of those victims — Greg Cerna, Maria Belyaeva and Ryan Freeman — are UT sophomores. Here, Cerna, Belyaeva and sophomore Oliver Croomes, who was with them the at the scene, recount their memories of the collision.
Nineteen-year-old Greg Cerna, computer science and electrical engineering sophomore, remembers getting pizza with his friends just before midnight Wednesday night. He remembers agreeing to walk to the Mohawk Bar to see Tyler, the Creator, despite not really being a fan. After that, he said, things get a little blurry.
“I remember getting to Red River Street but, after that, just loud noises,” Cerna said. “The next thing I remember really clearly is waking up in the hospital and seeing my aunt’s face.”
Cerna suffered a concussion and received scrapes and bruises all along the right side of his body after being hit. His head gash is now marked by nine metal staples. Cerna’s friend Croomes, who was at the scene but did not get hit, said he believes Cerna was carried up the block by the hood of the car.
“We had to walk toward people at the next intersection — that’s when I first saw [Cerna],” Croomes said. “I thought maybe he was dead.”
Cerna, who spoke slowly on Sunday, searching for words he has trouble remembering, said he is still in disbelief when he thinks about the reality of the collision.
“I never thought it was the kind of thing that could happen,” Cerna said. “And, like, to me.”
Maria Belyaeva’s body is covered with yellowing bruises and tiny cuts just starting to scab over. She has a sprained ankle, concealed bruises on her skull and several staples on the back of her head holding together a larger cut.
Belyaeva, computer science and radio-television-film sophomore, said she was one of the first people hit by the car.
“It hit us from behind,” Belyaeva said. “I was told he accelerated afterwards, which is scary. I remember waking up, and somebody was holding my hand, and someone else was holding my neck. It was dark, and they told me that I had been hit by a car, but I kind of thought they were kidding because I didn’t feel anything. I mean, my head hurt a little bit, but that was pretty much it.”
Belyaeva said she feels Owens, who is accused of driving the car, should see strict repercussions for his actions.
“I think he deserves a really harsh punishment,” Belyaeva said. “I know he was drunk, but that’s never really an excuse to be like ‘Oh, maybe I should go through this barricaded street through all of these people.’ He should accept the consequences of his actions, whatever they may be.”
Computer science sophomore Oliver Croomes has no idea where the blood-stained Mohawk Bar t-shirt on his blue living room table came from. Someone handed it to him after the crash, but Croomes said no one was shirtless, and he was in shock.
Croomes, who was walking along Red River Street with Cerna, Belyaeva and Freeman at the time of the crash, did not actually get hit by the gray Honda. Instead, he watched his three friends bear the brunt of the collision. Initially, he could not find them in the chaos.
“I remember thinking, I hope no one’s dead,” Croomes said. “I saw [Maria] first — I didn’t see her moving, so that freaked me out, but at least I knew she was there. I found [Freeman] on the opposite side of the street, but then — where the fuck was [Cerna]?”
Croomes said he was surprised by how quickly the collision was over.
“When you imagine situations like that, you feel like you’ll have some sort of time to escape, or help yourself,” Croomes said. “It just happens way, way too quickly.”
Cromes said, since the crash, he has a new awareness of mortality.
“I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately, [and now] I guess I kind of have a phobia of cars,” Croomes said. “But I’m OK.”