SXSW Isn’t Liable for Tragic Vehicular Manslaughter In 2014, Court Rules

Disaster strikes SXSW, 2014 (photo: Digital Music News)
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Disaster strikes SXSW, 2014 (photo: Digital Music News)
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Disaster strikes SXSW, 2014 (photo: Digital Music News)

In 2014, tragedy struck at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival when a drunk driver named Rashad Owens slammed into pedestrians at the festival as he was being pursued by police.

Owens vehicle was traveling as fast as 55 miles per hour as he sped through a two block area.

Rashad Owens’ actions left multiple pedestrians injured, and four people were killed.  Owens received a life sentence with no possibility for parole for his actions in the incident.

One of those who was killed in this incident was a bicyclist by the name of Steven Craenmehr.  Mr. Craenmehr was a music producer from the Netherlands attending the festival.

Mr. Craenmehr’s mother and widow filed a lawsuit against the festival organizers and the city of Austin.

The lawsuit claimed that there were not sufficient precautions taken to prevent the type of tragedy which led to Mr. Craenmehr’s death.  The wrongful-death lawsuit claimed that the city and the organizers should have been able to reasonably foresee such an event taking place.

The city had erected a temporary blockade at the road, and there was a policeman present.  However, Rashad Owens drove around the temporary blockade, and he almost struck the policeman who was standing next to it.

A lower court threw out the wrongful-death case, stating that there was no way that the festival organizers nor the city could foresee such a tragic incident taking place.  Mr. Craenmehr’s family decided to take their case to the Court of Appeals.

On Wednesday, the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled by a 2-to-1 margin to uphold the ruling of the lower court.  They found that neither the city of Austin nor the SXSW organizers were liable for the death of Mr. Craenmehr.

Judge James Graves Jr. dissented from the majority opinion.  He felt that the lawsuit should be dismissed against SXSW, but he believed that the suit against the city should be continued.  The judge cited various statistics showing that there were several accidents caused by drunk drivers in the period between 2009 and 2014.

Those incidents should have made police aware of the potential for an accident like the one that occurred at SXSW, Graves opined.

Mr. Craenmehr’s family has two further options for their case. They have the option of asking the full membership of the 5th Circuit to rule on the case. The family also has the option of asking the United States Supreme Court to take up the case and rule on the matter.