Tragic DUI Accident Proves SXSW Isn’t Family-Friendly At Night

shutterstock_144112717If you’re not familiar with South by Southwest (SXSW), it is a film and music festival that is the pride and joy of Texas. SXSW is going on as we speak, scheduled from March 7-16, 2014, in Austin, Texas. SXSW is right up the road from me, and I’ve just been waiting until my kids are old enough to handle massive, crazy crowds to take them to many of the family-friendly events.

After reading about an accident that took place late last night at the festival, I’m incredibly saddened and a little frightened about taking my kids to an event like this. Two people have been confirmed dead and 23 others were hospitalized after a drunk driver fleeing police plowed his car into a crowd at the festival. The “police chase” that led to the accident started when the intoxicated driver was caught driving the wrong way down a one-way street.

According to CNN:

“It looked like something out of a movie,” said Russ Barone, who was at the festival. “A few people lying on the street … with their friends around them trying to get them up, trying to get them back to life. Hopefully, they are.”

He said the scene was grisly, with people bleeding in the streets.

“I’ve never seen nothing like it. I felt like I was at a war or something,” Barone said. “I was down here for the music … we were having the best time ever. And then it turned into the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

I have so much to say about this incident. First, I am more than familiar with the party culture in Austin. If you’ve ever been to 6th Street on a Friday night, then you’ve probably seen some drunk idiot flashing their boobs or puking on the sidewalk. It’s chilling to think that someone looking for a good time at SXSW was careless enough to drive intoxicated and kill and injure multiple people.

Second, I am not proud to admit that I have a DUI in my history. This was a foolish mistake I made in my early twenties, and it has made me all kinds of paranoid about drinking and driving today. Because I have been in the situation myself, it literally makes me physically ill to think about the potential of killing someone after a night of partying with friends.

I know SXSW draws a wild crowd, but in daytime hours, it can cater to families. This accident took place at 12:30 AM, and I sincerely hope that families with kids left the festival far before then. I still want to take my kids in a few years, but this horrific accident has reminded me that SXSW is far from family-friendly at night.

(Image: Lecic/Shutterstock)

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  • Kendra

    I’m sure this was a very tragic and horrible thing to experience. But, my advice to you in this situation is to continue living your life and enjoying the things you enjoy. Tragic accidents or sometimes even non-accidents (Columbine, Sandy Hook, The Theater in Colorado) destroy lives every day. There isn’t much that we can do to prevent these things from happening to us. My husband and I seem to be surrounded by death and it follows us everywhere we go. It has taken a lot for me to not become paranoid about it. I feel like I constantly live on the edge of “who am I going to lose next?” and it’s just not a fun place to be. You don’t want to live this way. Take any obvious precautions that you can, but you’ve got to enjoy the things you can while you still can!

    • Bethany Ramos

      This is great advice, and I do agree with you. I hate hearing news like this, but it’s impossible to predict exactly when something “terrible” will happen because it can technically happen anywhere.

  • Life-Sized Mommy

    I wouldn’t exactly use this as an example of SXSW, specifically, not being “family-friendly at night”.

    I can’t think of anywhere at 12:30 AM that I would consider “family-friendly”.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Yes, I would really hope kids aren’t out past midnight, but I have been to so many festivals in Texas where parents get caught up or are waiting to hear a show and are trying to fight the crowds way past bedtime.

    • Angela

      I think that this is where good judgement needs to factor in. I’m not saying that it’s never acceptable for kids to be out late. My kids are still pretty young so there’s no way we’d be out past midnight but we have stayed out as late as 11 or so when we’ve done Disney or some other special event. It’s not something I’d do frequently but can be fun as a rare treat.

      BUT there’s a great deal of difference in letting your kids stay out late doing safe, appropriate activities and dragging them along to an adult-oriented nightlife scene because YOU are having too much fun to leave. And no matter where you are if the partying appears to be getting out of control you should leave ASAP. I think that if you’re planning to stay out for nighttime adult-centric entertainment that you’re better off leaving the kids home (and most kids would be bored anyway). To me it’s fine to bring the kids to the day time family friendly portion of the event, but if you want to stay then you should arrange to have a relative or sitter take the kids back home or to a hotel room while you enjoy your night out.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Agree – I am in no way saying that keeping your kids out past a certain that time means that they’ll get in a drunk driving accident like this. I have just been to many events in Austin, and it’s pretty clear that it gets crazy as a “nightlife” scene.

    • krislankay

      SXSW is always during Spring Break. I’m sure one night out of the year, it’s acceptable for kids to stay up past midnight…

    • Theresa Edwards

      Not where this was. At Red River and 7th, which is close by, I’ve been out with friends and seen families with kids. They aren’t taking kids to bars, but it’s a treat to go to some shops, stay up late, snag a pop from the popcycle or hang out by the food trucks. Austin has a different family thing going on, even late at night.

  • Theresa Edwards

    I don’t go to SXSW, because I live here. It gets so choked and belligerent downtown that I don’t even bother. Drunk drivers piss me off more than anything in the world.

  • Paul White

    As much as I hate SXSW I can’t see this as them not being “family friendly.” Drunken asshats can happen almost anywhere, and after 11 or 12 they seem to be a lot more common.

  • K.

    If it helps, this appears to be a tragic, but rare, accident and it seems such a shame to place restrictions on what you want to do because something *might* happen.

    You can do a lot of things in life to minimize perceived risks and some of them are definitely worth doing. But I think deciding not to attend SXSW because of this accident is a bit like deciding never to travel overseas because the Malaysian flight disappeared.

    If you can brave the crowds, I’d go!

  • WriterLady

    There is a popular festival in Columbus, Ohio called Comfest (Community Festival) held every June. I would describe it as similar to SXSW, but on a much smaller scale. Still, it draws tens of thousands of hippies, artists, musicians, and families who want to take in a show. When my son was 2, we took him to Comfest on a Saturday afternoon. Aside from the occasional day-drinking gone awry you might witness, the daytime hours are usually fine. NOT this time. As we were maneuvering through the crowd past the vendor stands, paramedics came running by, wheeling a man out on a stretcher who had been stabbed repeatedly. He had a sheet covering his lower body, but you could still see his face…and, AND…the blood seeping through the blanket. We later learned that he had a died. Luckily, my son was too young to understand what was going on or even notice anything (we immediately shielded him), but it gave me pause about bringing him to another event like that until he is quite a bit older. People are crazy and stupid, and it’s a damn shame that they have to ruin things for everybody who just wants to have a good time in a reasonable manner.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Omg, that’s horrible!

    • WriterLady

      It was definitely shocking and horrifying to witness. But I agree with your earlier statement that bad things can happen anywhere, and at any time. Ironically, the few terrible things I’ve witnessed or endured have always been during the daytime hours. When I was 26, I went for one of my routine jogs on a bike path near OSU’s campus, along the Olentangy River. It was a Saturday afternoon, middle of the day in July, with plenty of people out and about. During a brief moment of nobody being nearby, I was attacked by a homeless man who was sitting on a bench. I say this not to initiate a pity party (someone came by within seconds and pulled him off me, so no real harm done, aside from psychological issues and some bruises and scrapes), but the point remains that freak accidents/incidents can happen anywhere or anytime. (As an aside, he served 3 years in prison, and is now a registered sex offender due to attempted rape charges, so he paid for his crime.)

    • Bethany Ramos

      Very true! And no pity party here, but I am sorry that happened to you. How scary.

    • WriterLady

      Thank you, Bethany. I do appreciate the kind words. I did avoid bike paths for many years after that, but I eventually overcame my fears. The only thing that upset me about that particular incident was that I found out after the fact that there apparently had been a number of cases where girls or young women had been attacked (or even raped) in the same area, and neither OSU nor the Columbus Dispatch was willing to publicize the crimes. As for OSU, they didn’t want bad publicity. The Dispatch told me that they wouldn’t run my story unless I was willing to provide my name. Umm, no. I obviously didn’t want this creep to ever know my name, in the off-chance he would ever want to seek revenge (unlikely, but you never know). The assurance of anonymity was the only way I was going to tell my story. I wanted women in the local area to be aware of the potential dangers, and to suggest running with a partner whenever possible–also to avoid running with music blaring from an iPod or whatever, which is what distracted me a bit (not that I place any blame on myself). It angered me a little that neither institution recognized the importance of alerting others to these dangers.

    • Lisa

      I’m so sorry that this happened to you. I’m currently living in Columbus-right by the bike path actually.

      This in no way makes up for what happened to you, but in the six years I’ve been living here, I’ve noticed that the university has gotten much better about alerting others to these dangers, as well as incidents as they happen. So that is an upside.

    • WriterLady

      That’s very kind of you to say. Having lived in Columbus for 12 years (we just recently moved away from the city), I know there are dangers–especially in the area around where the college is located. I’m so glad to hear Ohio State has take some action toward creating awareness about potential dangers. I never really faulted the school, though I think the students and young women who frequent the paths are much better off for knowing that things can be sketchy along the bike path, side streets, etc. I was much more frustrated with the Dispatch, as I thought they could bend their rules under the circumstances. And, of course, their policies may have changed since then, too. That happened 8 years ago this summer. But thank you again for the update and kind words!

  • Angela

    I’ve never been to SXSW and don’t know much about it, but I also know that anywhere booze is served there’s a potential for drunken asshats. At a baseball game I once saw a couple college guys get so drunk that one of them puked all over the family in front of them. When we were little we were at the state fair and some drunken idiot collapsed and passed out on top of my brother’s stroller. The stroller was demolished but thankfully my brother was unharmed. I imagine that anywhere there’s booze that some assholes will decide to drive home drunk.

    I think that as a parent you need to use common sense. When we’d go to baseball games my parents usually left early so that we could skip the after game traffic (and likely avoid drunk drivers). Keep your kids in the kid-friendly areas of the venue and if you are concerned then leave. If you leave at a reasonable hour then the partiers are probably just getting started and very unlikely to be out on the roads yet.

  • Taxes Make Kittens Cry

    Yea, F this S!

    I’m taking all my infant childrens to Burning Man from now!

    • WriterLady

      According to Buzzfeed, the tickets for this years’ event sold out in less than an hour. You’re out of luck!

    • Taxes Make Kittens Cry

      ppsshh, I’ll have many cute babies with me. I’m sure they’ll let me in.

      Or I’ll just get drunk and plow my way in! There will be bodies all over the place, but no one will notice. It’s Burning Man.

  • LiteBrite

    I live in Milwaukee, and there are tons of festivals in summer, particularly by the Lakefront. Starting in May, there is something going on every weekend. I’ll take my son to these festivals during the day, but not at night, not because bad things only happen at night (they don’t) but because after hours there are usually all sorts of drunk weirdos wandering around, and night time at these things is really more for adults.

    (I also want to say that I have been one of these drunk weirdos wandering around at these events, so I have personal experience.)

    However, I also agree with the commenter who said you can’t live in fear. A few years ago there was a flash mob riot at a popular family-friendly event: The Wisconsin State Fair. Yes, it scared me, but I still take my son there. A lot of these incidences, while terrible, are isolated events, i.e. they don’t happen all the time.

  • Rachel Sea

    This was a freak occurrence which has no bearing on whether the event is family friendly. Even if drunk driving is a frequent problem, drunk driving which results in a chase that ends with running through a crowd of pedestrians happens almost never.

    I don’t know about TX, but if this happened in CA, the bars and bartenders who served this person would be hauled out on criminal charges. Here, it’s deemed to be our responsibility to make sure that we aren’t serving people to the point where their intoxication makes them a danger to themself or others.

    • Andy

      It’s been years since I worked in the restaurant/bar biz, but the TABC (Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission) is pretty hard on cases like this. I’m willing to bet this will be traced and dealt with at all levels.

    • Rachel Sea

      I hope so. Not enough bars recognize that having the stones to cut someone off is one of a bartender’s most important assets. People who don’t have that shouldn’t serve.

  • Canda

    Was SXSW ever claiming to be family-friendly at 12:30 am? This is a little bit overblown that perspective, I think. It was an horrible accident caused by a selfish, thoughtless person, and it’s sad for everyone involved. Obviously what happened is a complete tragedy, but it has no bearing on or correlation to whether or not SXSW is a family-friendly environment. An oddly written article.

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