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Suspect in deadly SXSW crash charged; allegedly told police he 'got scared'

austincrash.jpg

This undated photo provided by the Austin Police Department in Austin, Texas, shows Rashad Charjuan Owens. Owens, the driver who killed two people when he smashed his car through a barrier and into a street thronged with attendees of the South By Southwest festival, has been charged with capital murder.AP Photo/Austin Police Department

The drunken-driving suspect who police say killed two people after he smashed his car through a street barricade at the South By Southwest festival did not use his brakes and even accelerated as he approached crowds, according to an arrest warrant released Friday.

Rashad Charjuan Owens was charged Friday with one count of capital murder, though additional charges can be added later. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo has said Owens intentionally steered toward pedestrians early Thursday in hopes of escaping an officer who was trying to pull him over. Acevedo has suggested Owens could face two capital murder charges and as many as 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle.

The 21-year-old from Killeen, about 70 miles north of Austin, remains in police custody after a district court judge set his bail at $3 million. Jail records did not list an attorney for him.

According to the arrest warrant, Owens told police that he "got scared" when he saw police lights behind him around 12:30 a.m. Thursday because outstanding warrants meant he could go to prison for five years. The warrant says Owens said he's facing kidnapping warrants issued as part of a custody battle over his daughter.

A breath test indicated Owens' blood-alcohol content was .114, exceeding the legal limit of .08, the warrant says.

The officer who tried to pull over Owens was looking for suspected drunken drivers when he spotted a 2012 gray Honda Civic that didn't have its headlights turned on, the arrest warrant says. Owens then made a turn from a middle lane and "would have caused a crash" with the police cruiser had the officer not turned to avoid it, according to the warrant.

Investigators say Owens then cut through a gas station and sped the wrong way down a one-way street before crashing through police barriers blocking a street closed for South By Southwest festivities -- forcing another police officer manning the roadblock on foot to dive out of the way.

Police say Owens then plowed into a crowd of concertgoers, hitting and killing a man from the Netherlands on a bicycle and an Austin woman on a moped. Investigators say he eventually crashed into a taxi and parked van and tried to run before police subdued him with a stun gun.

The warrant says a video from the police unit giving chase "shows the Honda accelerating into crowds, not simply crowded areas but crowds of people who are hit by the car and flung into the air." It adds that Owens drove "for almost three city blocks, accelerating into crowds and does not use his brakes, as in the video there are no brake lights visible from the rear of the Honda."

Court records indicate that Owens pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in Fairbanks, Alaska, in October 2011, when he was 19. He also was charged with leaving the scene of an accident, but that was later dismissed.

Owens also faced 2012 charges in Alaska of criminal mischief, and a warrant was issued for him after he failed to appear in court. In 2010, meanwhile, he was arrested in Texas by Killeen Independent School District police for criminal trespassing and pleaded guilty.

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