Police chief

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

Updated (Friday, 7:15 p.m.): Travis County district judges issued a formal arrest warrant Friday afternoon for 21-year old Rashad Charjuan Owens, who has been accused of driving his car through a crowded area of downtown during SXSW activities, killing two people and injuring 23 others. Owens was charged with one count of capital murder and bond has been set at $3 million.

The booking photo of Rashad Charjuan Owens, who was formally charged with capital murder Friday afternoon. Courtesy of Austin Police Department.

Initially, APD Police Chief Art Acevedo said Owens would be charged with two counts of capital murder, which is a felony, and multiple counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle. So far, no other charges have been filed.

Earlier Friday, police officers released a statement clarifying that in Texas, capital murder is defined as two or more deaths in the same “criminal transaction.”

According to the police affidavit, Owens attempted to evade police because there were other warrants out for his arrest.

“Owens … said that he got scared because he has warrants and didn’t want to go to jail for 5 years for something he didn’t do,” the affidavit said. “Owens said that he has Kidnapping warrants and explained that he was part of a custody battle for his daughter.”

The affidavit describes a violent, chaotic crime scene.

“Victims were reported to have been flying everywhere as they were being struck by the Honda,” the affidavit said.

Updated (Thursday, 8:52 p.m.): Christopher Ziebell, emergency department director of University Medical Center-Brackenridge, said Thursday night that he was concerned about the recovery prospects for the most critically injured victims of the SXSW crash.

“The two most critical patients, I have a great deal of concern and worry about,” Ziebell said at a press conference. “We’re going to do our best for them, but these are some of the worst injuries that we see, and not everybody with these kind of injuries is going to survive.”

Seven of the 23 people injured in the crash were taken to the medical center from the scene. An eighth person came to Brackenridge from another hospital after the person's injuries proved more serious than doctors initially realized, Ziebell said.

The two individuals who died were 35-year-old Steven Craenmehr and 27-year-old Jamie Ranae West. West's husband, Evan West, is among those who were injured and transported to the hospital.

Earlier Thursday afternoon, Reverends Katie Wright and Bob Gribble of St. David’s Episcopal Church hosted a vigil for the crash victims, with about 30 people in attendance.

A woman attends a vigil held for the SXSW crash victims at St. David's Episcopal Church on Thursday. Photo by Shweta Gulati / Daily Texan Staff

Michelle Marshall, a SXSW attendee from Austin, said she was disturbed by the unexpected crash.

“I come every year and this accident just kind of put a damper on the whole weekend — I felt like I needed to pay my respects,” Marshall said. “There’s just a very reverent feeling in town now.”

In an address, Wright said she hopes the community can reflect on the tragedy, while also appreciate the positive aspects of the festival.

“Let us remember those who have died, and let God accept our prayers on behalf of the servants who died last night,” Wright said. “Let us remember these artists and patrons, as well as our city.”

Updated (Thursday, 1:40 p.m.): Austin police officials have named 21-year old Rashad Charjuan Owens as the driver who allegedly struck more than 20 individuals, killing two, with his car while speeding down Red River Street at SXSW after midnight on Thursday. Owens was charged with two charges of capital murder by terroristic threat, a felony-level offense, and multiple counts of aggravated assault with a motor vehicle. Owens was processed at Travis County Jail at 5:44 a.m. No bond has been set.

While many SXSW activities will continue, St. David's Episcopal Church at 301 E. Eighth Street will host an open prayer service for the victims at 5:30 p.m. 

The car incident killed two people and injured 23. One of the victims who died was 35-year-old Steven Craenmehr, a creative director for the international branding and promotion company, MassiveMusic. The identity of the woman who died has not been revealed by the police.

The Mohawk, which is located right by where the incident took place, has canceled all of its afternoon events though it has not announced a plan for the evening events. APD will also be closing Eighth and Ninth streets from the I-35 frontage road to Neches Street at 5 p.m, though access to the frontage road will not be affected.

International relations sophomore Rush Evans, who was inside The Mohawk at the time of the crash, said the events were barely noticeable from inside the venue.

“No one seemed to notice that anything weird was happening,” Evans said. “Everyone was just going on their way having a good time.”

Evans said his view from the balcony allowed him to watch the first responders react to the scene.

“It literally looked like something just pulled through there and moved everyone out of the street,” Evans said. “People were lying on the sidewalks almost exclusively. It was pretty disturbing to see a little blood.”

Evans, who is a native of Austin, said he did not anticipate such a serious incident would happen at the festival. He said he was shaken by his proximity to the crash.

“If I had gotten there 5 minutes later, it could have been me,” Evans said. “I would have been in that line the car plowed through.”

Earlier Thursday, Fort Hood soldier Andrew Barmwell filed a police report for a stolen vehicle with the Killeen Police Department, according to Chris Haug, media relations chief at Fort Hood. Haug said Barmwell believes his stolen car, a gray Honda Civic, may be the one used in the crash. Barmwell was not available for comment.

Updated (Thursday, 11:50 a.m.): MassiveMusic, an international music branding and promotion company, identified 35-year-old Steven Craenmehr as the man who was killed in the car incident. Craenmehr worked as the creative director for the Amsterdam, Netherlands-based company.

"During the eight years that Steven worked for MassiveMusic, we got to know him as an unstoppable force, full of life, love and laughter," the company released in a statement on its website. "This is an irreplaceable loss for the MassiveMusic family and we are grateful for the years we spent with him."

Updated (Thursday, 11:26 a.m.): At a press conference Thursday, SXSW managing director Roland Swenson said SXSW operations would not be affected by the early-morning car crash that resulted in two deaths and more than 20 injured pedestrians.

“As much as we would just like to go home and spend time absorbing the shock of this horrific event, we feel our best use is to continue operating today,” Swenson said.

APD police chief Art Acevedo said the police originally incorrectly reported the identities of the deceased people. Though the suspected driver struck a man and a woman on a moped, only the woman, who Acevedo said was from Austin, died.

“The male driver is actually stable and in good condition,” Acevedo said.

A SXSW visitor from the Netherlands whose name has not been released was the other fatality, Acevedo said. The man from the Netherlands was on his bike at the time of the crash.

Of the five patients originally reported as being in critical conditions, at least two are still critical, while the other three patients are in surgery or being evaluated, according to James Shamard, chief of staff for Austin-Travis County EMS.

Acevedo and other city officials, including Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, praised the efficiency of the first responders to the scene.

“I want to acknowledge the excellent performance of our first responders,” Leffingwell said. “There were about 25 people involved, and the incident was cleared from the street in less than 15 minutes.”

Leffingwell said city officials do everything they can to promote the safety of SXSW attendees.

“SXSW is a long-time event, 27 years, and this is the first time in 27 years we’ve had an incident of this kind,” Leffingwell said. “We will continually evaluate our events to make sure they’re as safe as they can possibly be.”

Daytime events will go on as planned, while planners at Mohawk Bar and Cheer Up Charlie’s, where the crash occurred, are still determining the best course of action, Swenson said.

SXSW managing director Ronald Swenson tells the media on Thursday morning that most SXSW operations will continue as planned. Photo by Shweta Gulati / Daily Texan Staff

Original story: At least two people died and more than 20 were injured after a car ran through the intersection of 9th Street and Red River Street during South By Southwest just past midnight on Thursday, according to the Austin Police Department.

The incident took place right outside The Mohawk, a bar and live music venue.

At 2:15 a.m., APD reported that it had apprehended the suspect driving the car by tasing the driver. The driver, who has not been publicly identified, struck multiple people, as well as a taxi cab. A man and a woman who were riding a moped were pronounced dead on the scene. In total, there were 23 victims, five of whom were in critical condition. APD Police Chief Art Acevedo said the driver will be charged with two counts of capital murder, as well as 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle.

“You cannot stop a person that decides rather than face potential drunk driving charges, at a high rate of speed, shows total disregard for human life,” Acevedo said. “That’s why we will be charging two counts of capital murder.”

In a joint press conference, Acevedo and Harry Evans, Austin Fire Department chief of staff, said the incident began when an APD officer initiated a traffic stop outside the Shell Gas Station on the intersection of I-35 and 9th streets. The driver weaved through the gas station lot and accelerated against the flow of traffic on 9th Street. When APD officers tried to overtake the vehicle, the driver took a right turn down Red River Street at a “high rate of speed,” Acevedo said.

APD Police Chief Art Acevedo addresses the media around 2:20 a.m. Thursday. Photo by Shelby Tauber / Daily Texan Staff.

“The gas station, as you can imagine with all the activities around, was very busy,” Acevedo said. “He was in a smaller vehicle, he was able to weave his way through.”

Acevedo said the driver drove through police-patrolled barricades to speed through Red River Street.

“We had an Austin police officer in uniform working barricade patrol, and he was forced to move out of the way to avoid being struck himself,” Acevedo said. “The suspect driver then accelerated down Red River Street, and at a high rate of speed struck multiple pedestrians.”

Acevedo said the chase ended after the driver crashed at the northwest corner of 11th and Red River streets.

“[He crashed] into a parked van, and then he exited the vehicle and attempted to flee on foot,” Acevedo said. “The officer was able to overtake him on foot, and was actually forced to tase him to take him into custody.” 

Mike Benavides, Travis County Emergency Medical Services spokesman, said EMS worked with 25 patients, including five who were in critical condition. Benavides said those five people had been transported off the scene within 15 minutes.

Benavides said Travis County EMS were prepared and had resources dedicated to SXSW patrol.

"This traffic management plan is a plan that has worked for years," Benavides said.

The area between the I-35 access road and Neches Street, and stretching from 10th to 11th Street, will be closed for most of Thursday.

Acevedo said the incident was unlike anything he had seen before as police chief.

A blocked off portion of the street following in the incident taken around 1 a.m. on Thursday. Photo by Cameron Peterson / Daily Texan Staff

“Nothing like this has happened at SXSW in the seven years [I’ve] been chief officer,” Acevedo said.

Computer science senior Calvin Lau was lined up at The Mohawk to watch rapper Tyler the Creator perform. Lau saw the police cars and witnessed some of the aftermath of the incident.

"It really just came out of left field for me," Lau said. "I didn't hear of anything like this happening before. I don't think anybody saw that coming."

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the nationality of the man who died in the incident. The man is from the Netherlands.

Justin Atkinson, Lauren L'Amie, Jordan Rudner, Shabab Siddiqui and Hannah Smothers contributed to this report.

Austin Police Department Assistant Chief of Police, David Carter, talks about why he deserves to be the next UTPD Chief of Police.

Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

Although the relationship between the Austin Police Department and UT Police Department is generally strong, a candidate vying to be UT’s next police chief believes it can be stronger.

David Carter, assistant chief of APD and one of four candidates for the position of UTPD chief, spoke Friday on his plans for UTPD if he is selected. Carter said he will focus on creating a strong relationship between APD and UTPD so they can accomplish their two main goals — keeping the community safe and creating a community-wide perception of safety.

“Clearly there’s differences between the campus police department and the city police department, but their roles are very similar,” Carter said.

He said he will try to ensure police are perceived on campus as outstanding and to build trust between the community and police officers. Carter said he also plans to reach out to campus organizations.

“A challenge will be how best to approach and address those organizations, some that may want to hear from the police and some that may not want to hear from the police,” Carter said.

University operations spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon is a member of a committee of more than 20 students, faculty and staff evaluating potential candidates for the position. Weldon said after looking through the applications, the committee narrowed the choices to seven applicants, which Michael Lauderdale, committee chairman and criminal justice professor, narrowed down to four.

Weldon said Carter appealed to her because he has both municipal and University-related backgrounds.

“UT being in such an urban setting, our department representatives work closely with our partners in Central Texas,” Weldon said. “The Sherriff’s department, APD, DPS, they train together, there are large events, there’s large-scale partnering. I was looking for someone who knows how to navigate that.”

Psychology sophomore Dannie Martinez said a stronger police presence on campus would improve the perception of safety.  

“I tend never really to see them unless it’s around the nighttime and they are in their squad cars,” Martinez said. “I haven’t really had to deal with any of them, thankfully, but it would be nice to be reminded that they are on campus.”

Carter is vying to replace Robert Dahlstrom, the current UTPD chief, who is retiring next month. The other three candidates are Melissa Zak, Los Angeles Police Department captain; John McCandless, Miami University Police Department chief; and APD assistant chief Raul Munguia. Carter is the first to speak, and each candidate will speak about their plans on campus to students, faculty and staff throughout the month. 

A series of public forums beginning Friday will feature the final four candidates for the position of University of Texas Police Department chief. The candidates will address campus concerns and discuss the future of the department. 

The forums will round out the selection committee’s process, allowing candidates to address the public before one is selected for further recommendation. The committee hopes to finalize a decision by the end of the semester. Last semester, UTPD Chief Robert Dahlstrom announced his retirement effective next month.

David Carter, Assistant Chief of the Austin Police Department, will be the first candidate to be featured in the forum. It will be held at the Avaya Auditorium at 2 p.m. 

Michael Lauderdale, chairman of the selection committee and criminal justice professor, said candidate performance at the forums will weigh heavily on the committee’s consideration and encouraged students to attend. 

“The open forum is important as we want to make the candidates available to others that are not on the various interview committees,” Lauderdale said. “How the candidates present themselves in public, respond to questions and read our community interests will be an important factor in our considerations.”

The search committee will select a finalist based on a series of qualifications unique to the police chief position, according to a committee press release. Given the University’s large infrastructure, the chief of police must demonstrate a clear sense of leadership and administrative coordination. 

Lauderdale said the chief must be enthusiastic and able to work with a diverse group of people. The chief also needs to be comfortable working with other law enforcement entities.

“This is not a sleepy college town,” Lauderdale said. “We’re a very visible campus with big-time visitors, about one to two million [visitors] per year. We need to have a chief that is respected and works collaboratively with the Austin Police Department and the Travis County Sheriff’s office as well as the Texas Department of Public safety, the DEA and FBI.”

Lauderdale said the chief of police should approach the position with the educational goals of the institution in mind, utilizing the position to further the education of students and the mission of faculty and staff at the University. The forums will help indicate whether the candidates can fulfill such requirements.

Although the committee’s recommendation will single out a final candidate, the ultimate hiring decision rests with UT President William Powers Jr.

“We will have one individual come back to meet with President Powers,” Lauderdale said. “The president’s responsibility is to see if the individual meets his criteria. Our hope is that we can have all of this done and that we have chosen a candidate by the time graduation occurs. We’d like to have some transition before Chief Dahlstrom leaves the campus.”

When Austin police chief Art Acevedo visited The Dudley & Bob Morning Show on KLBJ in December, it seemed like an ordinary PR appearance — that is, until the last few minutes of the interview.

After the show hosts made a couple of jokes about marijuana use, Art Acevedo interrupted to say, “You know, what you do in your home and the privacy of your home is great. We could care less, as long as you’re not selling the stuff and growing it for everybody else.” He quickly added, “Just don’t drive. Don’t drive, that’s all I ask.”

The discussion about marijuana that followed was brief but full of other surprising comments: Acevedo admitted that he hoped to smoke weed before he died, then made a few digs at the Williamson County’s police department, which is known for its aggressive drug enforcement practices. “What a price to pay to get a little bit of dope,” the police chief said, “to be doing body cavity searches every time you stop somebody for a misdemeanor.”

The nonchalant comments came soon after Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana use and, closer to home, Texas state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, filed HB 184. The bill seeks to make possession of marijuana, one ounce or less, a class C misdemeanor, the equivalent of a traffic ticket, rather than a class B misdemeanor, the equivalent of a DWI. Two months later in early January, Texas state Rep. Elliott Naishtat (a Democrat who represents many students living near UT’s campus) and Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, filed HB 594, a bill to allow doctors to legally recommend marijuana as a medical treatment and to legalize marijuana possession by those patients. Although the purchase and distribution of the drug would still be illegal, the bill would allow individuals suffering from Parkinson’s disease, cancer or MS to avoid jail time for eating pot brownies at their physician’s suggestion.

Revisions to both state and federal drug laws are long overdue: Prisons are overflowing with nonviolent offenders, more police departments are refusing to make possession arrests and almost half of the United States have legalized or decriminalized clinical use of marijuana. Harsh penalties for smoking weed put otherwise employable Texas citizens in expensive prisons for victimless, nonviolent crimes. The effects of jail time are far-reaching: Former inmates have a harder time finding well-paying jobs after a drug charge, which translates into more families in poverty and relying on social services.

The conversation on drug policies is changing. HB 184 and HB 594 offer Texas the a chance to be a part of that change, but the opportunity for bipartisan collaboration on reforming dated, expensive policies could easily be wasted. Both Rep. Dutton and Rep. Naishtat have introduced similar bills in prior legislative sessions, but if history bears out, neither HB 184 nor HB 594 will make it out of committee.

Although Gov. Rick Perry supports states’ rights to determine the legality of marijuana, he ignores Texas citizens’ demands to fix a broken system. The 2011 Texas Lyceum Poll — administered before Washington’s and Colorado’s drug laws passed — revealed that one-third of Texas voters supported legalizing marijuana, a measure far more controversial than decriminalization. If we can’t have immediate reform, we at least deserve a serious, well-informed discussion on the social, economic and psychological consequences of criminalizing a plant.

Buckley Rue, president of the UT chapter of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, helps organize students to fight against restrictive laws on controlled substances. The religious studies senior said, “I think [the bills] are a powerful steps in the right direction. The bills don’t even need to get passed. Persistence is what’s going to win in the end.”

Persistence worked for Washington and Colorado, and hopefully persistence will work for decriminalization here. Until then, federal, state and local governments will continue to pour billions of dollars annually into a war against our own citizens that cannot be won. I hope our legislators will realize, as our police chief does, what Texas law sacrifices in the name of a little bit of dope.

San Luis is a Plan II, Women’s and Gender Studies and English senior from Buda.

In this photo taken Friday, 10-year-old Roman Ramirez carries a banana tree branch from the tropical garden in Woodlake, Calif.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

WOODLAKE, Calif. — When Manuel Jimenez first set eyes on the land below a levee, the one-time field worker envisioned a place where youngsters could escape the temptations of gang life and learn about the Central Valley’s most vital industry.

But, like many places in California’s farming belt, this Tulare County town of 7,280 had few resources. Best known for its rodeo, Woodlake has been devastated by gangs. More than 40 percent of its families, many Latino immigrant farmworkers, live in poverty.

Over the past seven years, Jimenez found a way to teach hundreds of young volunteers farming techniques, work habits and communication skills to prepare them for jobs or college. With creativity and help from the community, they turned 14 desolate acres into lush gardens. And the police chief credits the program, Woodlake Pride, with helping fight gang crime.

“We want to grow kids in our gardens, because we’ve seen what violence, drugs and alcohol can do,” said Jimenez, a lifetime resident who works as a farm adviser with UC Cooperative Extension.

For years, Jimenez had gathered children and planted flowers and vegetables in vacant lots. When the city purchased a railroad right-of-way on Bravo Lake, he offered to convert it to gardens. The city provided land, water and insurance.

A local farmer donated money for irrigation and snacks. Area companies donated tubing, fertilizer and plants. And Jimenez took a sabbatical while his wife Olga, a retired packing house worker, organized the children.

The youngsters and Jimenez laid irrigation pipes in a mile-long trench. They designed a walking path and spread mounds of mulch with wheelbarrows. Then they planted banana trees and 1,600 roses.

Many stayed day after day, year after year. Jimenez brought donuts and hot chocolate. He joked and had long conversations with the children. He took them to dinner, the zoo and hiking.

Each plant Jimenez chose told a story; it was unique in smell, flavor, appearance or history.

“Everything Manuel did was interesting to me,” said Walter Martinez, who worked in the gardens during middle and high school and is now a field assistant with UC Cooperative Extension.

One year, the kids planted 20,000 zinnias to spell ‘Woodlake’ on the levee. Another year, they designed gardens encircled with sunflowers containing such dazzling plants that some visitors cried.

The gardens became a community gathering space. The fruit is not picked and visitors can sample ripe produce right off the branch.
On a recent November morning, the gardens burst with 130 varieties of roses, 60 types of grapes, 200 varieties of stone fruit, a cactus collection, rows of guava, mango and papaya trees and rare purple walnuts.

Jimenez and 10-year-old Roman Ramirez huddled next to tomato plants.

“Mijo, you need to cut here,” Jimenez said, demonstrating the use of pruning shears and referring to the boy as his son. Then he let Roman clip the plants.

The children — some as young as 8, though most are high school age — find the gardens through word of mouth. Even on gray winter weekends, they call Jimenez, asking: “Manuel, are we working today?” Jimenez and his wife, who have four grown children, spend every free hour in the gardens.

“This is a great project, because it engages kids so they don’t have time to walk on the streets,” said Carmen Perez, whose 15-year-old son Gerardo spends nearly every day with the program.

Gerardo’s parents already work in agriculture, his mother in a packing plant, his father in the fields. Gerardo says he plans to go to college to become an agricultural engineer, like Jimenez.

Though there are only 12 documented gang members in Woodlake, Police Chief John Zapalac said loosely affiliated groups of Surenos and Nortenos clash here. Many kids lack stability in their home life, he said, so they become “wannabe members,” sucked into the violence.

Although a few of the youth previously involved in the gardens are in jail and one was killed last October, the chief credits the gardens in part with the town’s decline in youth violence in recent years.

The program has helped steer many youngsters away from that path, the chief said. Children wearing gang colors are sent home to change. The Jimenezes counsel them against the gang lifestyle and encourage them to pursue higher education. “They’re surrogate parents, they really are,” said Zapalac.

The children gain confidence by giving presentations and serving as tour guides. This year, 800 visitors attended the berry tasting.

The majority of the teens make it to college, Jimenez said. Garden kids have become car salesmen, farm managers, teachers and engineers.

Jimenez continues to dream big. He’s already applying for grants to plant larger gardens and open a U-pick and interpretive center, so that he can involve even more kids.

“You can’t wait for somebody else, like the government, to do things for you,” Jimenez said. “You need to get up and fix the community yourself.”