- The Stranger
- OUTSIDE THE MOHAWK Scene of the wreck.
More very, very sad news from the South by Southwest tragedy: A third person, Sandy Le, 26, died today from injuries sustained during the Thursday-morning car wreck outside the Mohawk nightclub. That accident also claimed the lives of Jamie West, 27, and Steven Craenmehr, 35, and injured 22 others. Seven people remain hospitalized, including one other in critical condition. USA Today reports:
Le was with a group of friends, some also injured, when police say Rashad Owens, 21, of Killeen, Texas, crashed through a barricade closing the downtown street to vehicle traffic. He's accused of driving drunk, fleeing from police and intentionally driving into a crowd of festival-goers.
I spent Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in Austin. You would think that being there somehow equals more information, maybe an inside-scoop on what exactly went down, but it's actually quite the opposite. Now, I'm not going to write a think-piece on the "lost spirit" of SXSW, overblown festival environments, or commercialism versus human lives, but I will tell you what it was like to spend the weekend there.
It was during an all-night drive from Tucson, AZ to Austin, TX, last Thursday when everyone in the van—me and my three band mates—started receiving odd text messages asking if we were okay. Friends, relatives, other bands wanted to know: "Hey, are you guys okay?" "Is everyone okay?" It was around 2 a.m. and we were tired and confused, but definitely okay.
It took a while for us to get the whole story: Someone had wrecked a car into a crowd of SXSW attendees waiting outside the Mohawk—a venue right in the middle of everything—and two people had died, and many more were injured. The loose network of band buddies we had come to know from previous tours were all checking in with each other. I racked my brain for every band I knew who had made the trip to SXSW this year and started check-ins of my own. It felt important, at the time, to know what the band was that the people were waiting outside for. It turned out to be X—a band our friends would have definitely waited to see.
Finally stepping out of our van at 8:30 am on Thursday, we went straight to sleep to wake up in time for our first show that afternoon. Since internet and phone service are made really spotty by the mass of people in Austin, I felt a continuous, nagging sense of not really having enough information. The irony is, back in Seattle, I would have been receiving up-to-the-minute info. In Austin, everything just kept moving. Shows happened, our own shows happened. Crowds of people drifting by mumbled bits and pieces about the tragedy, but everyone still had a beer in their hand. The attitude seemed to be: The festival must go on. People I talked to over the weekend mentioned maybe knowing someone who knew someone in the ICU.
On Saturday, I was standing outside at a day-time show when everyone passed around a phone with a photo of the 21-year-old who had allegedly caused the accident, but that didn't get us closer to understanding why this had happened. A few Austin residents thought maybe there should have been more barricades with no way to drive that close to venues. Someone else pointed out that they had to have those driving paths open for emergency vehicles.
Late Saturday, I walked to the Mohawk. There was some event going on there, wasted-looking people inside and out. It was really dark and really late, but from what I could tell, nothing looked very out of the ordinary. A few flower bouquets and a rosary were tied to a loading-zone sign. I took a quick photo, but didn't feel awesome about it. A guy on a low-rider bike asked me for a cigarette. Someone said Jennifer Aniston had made an appearance at the bar earlier.