AUSTIN, Texas (CN) - Families whose members were killed or injured at an Austin music festival when a man fleeing police drove his car into a crowd filed at least six lawsuits this week against festival organizers.
At least five lawsuits were filed in Travis County Court (Austin) and another one in San Antonio Federal Court.
Lead defendant SXSW Holdings organized the South by Southwest music festival, where the tragedy occurred on March 13. Also sued were Traffic Design Consultants and its registered agent Patrick Michael Lowe, and Rashad Owens, who allegedly drove the car.
The parents of De' Andre Tatum claim in Travis County that his death was "a completely preventable tragedy" and that it was "foreseeable and predictable that an errant vehicle ... might barrel into the festival venue on Red River Street where De' Andre Tatum was struck."
The parents, Tamara and Derrick O'Neal, claim that an Austin police officer tried to stop Owens for making an illegal left turn just after midnight. Owens fled, the officer giving chase, then Owens turned right, and barreled into the street festival, according to the complaint. De'Andre was killed and his girlfriend injured.
They claim that the festival organizers could, and should "have prevented such a vehicle from entering an area designated for the festival, and the pedestrian attendees. If they had done so, then De' Andre Tatum would be alive today."
In San Antonio, the widow of Steven Craenmehr claims that a City of Austin evaluation of the SXSW festival notes that "many of the events [are] ill-planned" and that "festivalgoers were encouraged to travel all over Austin's Central Business District from one official SXSW venue to another."
The widow, Lizzy Jane Francis Plug, cites a similar tragedy in Santa Monica in 2003, where dozens were injured and/or killed, and a fatal 2012 auto-pedestrian incident on the Austin Hike and Bike Trail, as examples why traffic planners for SXSW should have used rigid barriers to protect pedestrians.
The complaints also claim that the defendants should have been aware of the excessive alcohol consumption and frequency of drunk driving near the SXSW festival and in Austin's Central Business District.
Arrest statistics "provide further compelling reasons for why the SXSW defendants should have anticipated - even expected - that an errant vehicle operated by an intoxicated person might penetrate an area where SXSW encouraged pedestrians and bicyclists to congregate," Plug says in her lawsuit.
According to the lawsuits, SXSW hired Patrick Lowe and his consulting firm, Traffic Design Consultants, to obtain right-of-way permits in the Central Business District for the music festival.
But Lowe underestimated the expected attendance, at 40,000, though SXSW expected to sell far more tickets, according to the complaints.
Curtisha Davis, the girlfriend of decedent De' Andre Tatum, says she and her friend Erica D. Hall (who filed a separate lawsuit) were on Red River Street "when the vehicle began running down pedestrians. With no place to run, they were unfortunately and violently struck by the vehicle, as well. The collision was so violent that Dre was literally knocked out of his shoes, and both Curtisha and Erica were injured."
Plaintiffs seek damages for personal injuries, pain and suffering and medical bills.
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