Father Calls SXSW Tragedy ‘Preventable’

     AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – A man whose teenage daughter was injured at an Austin music festival when a man fleeing police drove his car into a crowd of people claims the incident was preventable.
     The lawsuit filed this past Wednesday in Travis County Court comes after five previous Travis County lawsuits and one federal lawsuit stemming from the incident. It alleges gross negligence and premises liability.
     Arthur Zamarripa, on behalf of his daughter A.Z., sued SXSW Holdings and SXSW LLC, which operate the South by Southwest festival. Also sued were Transportation Design Consultants LLC and its registered agent Patrick Lowe, and Rashad Owens, who allegedly drove the car.
     South by Southwest, or SXSW, is a music, film and interactive festival held annually in Austin every March. The festival started as a music-only conference and festival in 1987 and celebrated the city’s eclectic music scene.
     The conference later expanded to include film and interactive components and attracts visitors from across the world. According to its own statistics for 2014, SXSW had a total attendance of 376,600 people and generated $315.3 million for the Austin economy.
     According to the arrest affidavit for the March 13, 2014 incident, an Austin police officer saw Rashad Owens in his Honda Civic make an illegal turn and almost collide with the officer. Owens fled on the southbound access road of Interstate 35 as the officer pursued with his emergency lights activated.
     Owens pulled into a gas station parking lot, bypassed stopped vehicles, and began driving the wrong way westbound on 9th Street. The officer was unable to catch up with Owens before he evaded a police barricade and turned onto Red River Street.
     Owens proceeded to strike multiple pedestrians – including A.Z. and her friends – with victims reported to “have been flying everywhere as they were being struck by the Honda,” according to the affidavit.
     Owens continued driving north on Red River “at a high rate of speed mowing down people,” went through another barricade and hit a motorcycle and taxicab, which caused two more deaths.
     When Owens’ Honda came to a stop, he began running on foot before finally being apprehended by police.
     In total, four people were killed and dozens were injured in the incident.
     Owens, who was determined to be driving drunk, admitted that he fled police because he was worried about going to jail for prior warrants. He is currently in the Travis County jail after being indicted for capital murder.
     As in the previous lawsuits, Zamarripa claims that the March 13, 2014 incident was a preventable tragedy because SXSW “knew or should have known that drivers under the influence of alcohol pose a risk of harm to festival-goers” and that SXSW had “superior knowledge of the risk that errant vehicles posed to festival attendees.”
     The complaint alleges that SXSW was negligent for not avoiding a “foreseeable risk” and for not preventing Owens’ vehicle from “penetrating the perimeter of the festival zone and colliding with and injuring or killing festival-goers.”
     “SXSW defendants failed to utilize adequate traffic control measures to protect attendees who were pedestrians or bicyclists,” the complaint states. “Ordinary, prudent festival organizers and ordinary, prudent traffic design consultants would have deployed rigid barricades to prevent errant vehicles from colliding with festival attendees.”
     But the attorney for SXSW, Peter Kennedy, disagrees and told Courthouse News that the city of Austin chose the barriers used to close streets during 2014 SXSW festival. Such “type III” barricades are used for temporary street closures and are the same ones the city had used for past events such as the governor’s inaugural parade and the Pecan Street Festival.
     Kennedy wants the lawsuits against SXSW dismissed on the basis that Rashad Owens is solely responsible for the tragedy. The attorney said that Owens’ actions were so unprecedented and extreme that they could not have been foreseen.
     “Rashad Owens was fleeing the police and deliberately ran down pedestrians in an effort to escape – nothing remotely similar to what he did had ever occurred in Austin or during SXSW,” Kennedy said.
     In a March 27, 2015 motion to dismiss one of the suits, Kennedy emphasized that “Texas law is very clear that SXSW is not liable for the harm Owens inflicted” because the law places sole liability for crimes on the criminal.
     “Only when the risk of a particular crime happening is unreasonably high and foreseeable, based on a specific history of frequent, prior, recent similar crimes happening in the same location,” does Texas law make private parties liable to prevent criminal acts, according to the motion.
     Kennedy said the lack of precedent for “any crime remotely similar to Qwens’ driving rampage” in Austin or during SXSW means that SXSW cannot be held responsible for Owens’ crimes.
     A judge is expected to rule on Kennedy’s motion to dismiss later this week.
     Zamarripa seeks regular damages and punitive damages for defendants’ intentional, wanton, malicious, and oppressive actions.
     He is represented by Scott Hendler of Hendler Lyons Flores in Austin.

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