SXSW Lawsuit Recalls 2003 Santa Monica Farmer's Market Tragedy

This screen grab shows Steven Craenmehr, who was killed by an errant vehicle at SXSW last March. His widow filed a federal lawsuit last week. That's where this  screen grab is from. - San Antonio Current
San Antonio Current
This screen grab shows Steven Craenmehr, who was killed by an errant vehicle at SXSW last March. His widow filed a federal lawsuit last week. That's where this screen grab is from.

Last week, attorneys filed a lawsuit against SXSW festival organizers on behalf of Lizzy, the widow Steven Craenmehr who was killed at SXSW last March by accused errant and drunk driver Rashad Owens.

Owens was fleeing police when he allegedly killed Craenmehr, Jamie West, Sandy Thuy Le and DeAndre Tatum, all of whom died from being hit by Owens' car. Twenty other people sustained injuries from the accident. The evidence against Owens is strong, but proceedings against the man are proceeding slowly, as often happens in the criminal justice system. 

The lawsuit, which is seeking all sorts of damages and demands a jury trial, alleges the event's organizers could have prevented the tragedy.

"It was foreseeable and predictable that an errant vehicle (whether driven by a drunk driver, a tired driver, or an elderly and confused driver) might drive into the cordoned-off area on Red River Street because there are 20,000 errant vehicle incidents in the United States each year," the lawsuit states. "The owners, planners, and organizers of a downtown urban music festival should have recognized that risk given their nearly three decades of experience holding the festival. If SXSW had adhered to industry standards and utilized adequate traffic control measures, Steven Craenmehr would be alive today."

The lawsuit, which points to 500 alcohol-related arrests at the festival over the past five years, also uses multiple examples of other similar tragedies across the United States, including the 2003 Santa Monica farmer's market accident where an elderly driver killed 10 people and injured another 63 individuals. The lawsuit repeatedly uses this example. This tragedy resulted in a National Transportation Safety Board report that was 50 pages long.

"Anyone involved with planning street closures to host pedestrian-oriented events such as the SXSW festival is, or certainly should be, familiar with the Santa Monica Farmer's Market errant vehicle crash and the published report of the NTSB investigation," the lawsuit states. "The NTSB's strongest recommendation was that the traffic control planners responsible for the farmer's market should have deployed rigid barricades capable of absorbing and deflecting oncoming vehicles to prevent penetration by the moving vehicle into the pedestrian zone."

According to the lawsuit, there were no rigid barriers on Red River where the accident happened, though the barriers are a common sight in Austin.

"Moreover, had SXSW planners and organizers followed the recommendations of the NTSB that grew out of the Santa Monica errant vehicle collision by deploying adequate rigid barriers around the perimeter of the area under its control on Red River, the SXSW Defendants could have prevented the tragedy that resulted in multiple injuries and deaths on March 13, 2014," the lawsuit states.

While the lawsuit compares the Santa Monica tragedy to the horrible event last March in Austin, the attorneys didn't mention that the Santa Monica accident resulted in years of civil litigation.

"The city of Santa Monica and other defendants will pay $21 million to settle dozens of civil lawsuits arising from the July 2003 crash at the downtown Farmers' Market that left 10 people dead and 63 injured," the Los Angeles Times reported in 2008. "The amount includes a $6-million resolution, announced Wednesday, in the final two cases in the long-running legal controversy. It also includes $15.3 million for plaintiffs in 40 other cases that was agreed upon earlier this year."

The lawsuit against SXSW also names Craenmehr's young child and his mother. 

"As a result of Steven Craenmehr's wrongful death, his wife, mother, and child have suffered damages in the past—including termination of the marital relationship, child-parent relationship, and the parent-child relationship—loss of consortium, loss of companionship and society, and severe mental anguish," the lawsuit states.

In a statement to KVUE in Austin, SXSW organizers place the blame on Owens, who is facing two counts of capital murder and 24 counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

"What happened on Red River was a terrible tragedy, caused by Rashad Owen's utter disregard of human life. Our hearts continue to ache for those injured and the families of those who lost their lives. We look forward to his prosecution for his awful crimes," SXSW told the station in a statement.


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