A cyclist from the Netherlands and an Austin woman who was riding a moped were killed after a suspected drunk driver fleeing police smashed through temporary barricades and crashed into a crowd gathered for the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.

At about 12:30 a.m. local time, police said the grey Honda Civic broke through the festival barricade on Red River Street, forcing a police officer to jump out of the way. The male driver, who police believe was impaired at the time, proceeded to hit a cyclist, then a couple on a moped, a taxi, van, and nearby pedestrians on a busy street where festival-goers were hanging around bars and music venues.

Canadian acts nearby

Toronto-based indie music label Arts & Crafts was hosting a showcase of its talent at the South by Southwest festival on the same street where the fatal collision took place. A manager for The Darcys, another Canadian band, said none of the Canadian musicians were hurt. 

At the time of the collision, Ontario’s Timber Timbre was on stage at the Swan Dive’s outdoor stage, just a five-minute walk from the stretch of Red River Street where the chaos occurred.

Inside, Ottawa’s A Tribe Called Red was playing its showcase.

Vancouver-based music promoter Jason Sulyma tweeted that all of the Canadian musicians were safe. Arts & Crafts said it will not be  issuing a statement about the incident.

Rashad Charjuan Owens, 21, will face two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle, Austin police said Thursday afternoon in a statement. Formal charges are still pending.

Police said the incident started when an officer on a drunken-driving patrol tried to stop a vehicle. Acevedo indicated the suspect was drunk, but drunken driving was not among the charges police said Owens would face. Acevedo said investigators have obtained blood samples and were testing them.

Public records obtained by The Associated Press show that Owens had a previous conviction in Alaska for drunken driving and one in Texas for criminal trespass.

Acevedo said he believed Owens was so intent on evading the police that he willfully drove into the crowd.

"The bottom line is, when somebody's acting intentionally, and this is a person that was trying to get away, it's very difficult to stop," Acevedo said, adding later: "It's clear for me from his actions, from what I've seen, that this is an individual who showed no regard for the human beings that he plowed through in his attempt to get away."

EMS officials said 23 people were taken to hospital, including five who were critically injured and were raced to a nearby trauma centre.

Three people were in critical condition Thursday afternoon, up from two earlier in the day.​ Others remain in serious condition, said Dr. Christopher Ziebell, the emergency department director at the University Medical Center-Brackenridge said. He also said Owens was treated for minor injuries.

"The most critical patients I have a great deal of concern for," Ziebell said. "We are going to do our best for them, but these are some of the worst injuries that we see and not everybody with these kinds of injuries is going to survive."

Austin police chased Owens, and eventually used a stun gun on him before taking him into custody. 

Massive Music, a company with offices in Amsterdam, New York and London, said employee Steven Craenmehr, 35, died suddenly in Austin. No one at the company responded to phone messages requesting additional information.

The Travis County Medical Examiner identified the other person who died as 27-year-old Jamie Ranae West of Austin. West was on a moped that was struck by the car. Her husband, Evan West, was among those hospitalized.

The names of the other injured people were not released.

Austin police Chief Art Acevedo​ said the investigation was “moving very rapidly,” though there is a large crime scene to comb through.

Acevedo urged anyone with information or images from the collision to give them to police.

“Rather than just post it on social media, please respect the sanctity of this investigation,” he said.

Acevedo also said it “would be a victory for evil” if SXSW was cancelled in the wake of the tragedy.

A sombre Roland Swenson, the festival’s managing director and co-founder, said the entire SXSW staff is “stunned” by what happened.

Swenson said the festival’s daytime events will go ahead as planned, but it’s unclear how many of the hundreds of musical acts set to play tonight will take the stage.

“As much as we would all just like to go home … we feel like the best thing to do is to go on,” Swenson said. 

Pedestrians struck on busy strip

Most of the pedestrians injured were struck on Red River Street, between East 9th and 10th streets. Many people were in the area to see shows at the Mohawk, a bar where rapper Tyler the Creator was performing among other SXSW acts.

The street was full of concert-goers just minutes before the crash, but officials had cleared the street because it was a fire lane. 

Harry Evans, chief of staff for the Austin Fire Department, said 24 firefighters were on scene within minutes of the crash. Paramedics also scrambled to the scene, dispatching both ambulances and paramedics on motorbikes. 

James Shamard, Austin-Travis County EMS chief of staff, said every seriously injured patient was moved from the scene within 15 minutes as paramedics operated in "triage mode." 

While nothing like this has ever happened at SXSW before, Shamard said emergency officials always discuss protocols for dealing with mass casualties.

Austin police, mayor want festival to continue

SXSW, which runs from March 7 to 16, is one of the biggest celebrations of music and film in North America, bringing together undiscovered bands and several top acts. Days ago, at the interactive element of the festival — more focused on technology and film — NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden spoke via teleconference from Moscow.

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell expressed his condolences to those affected by the collision, calling it a tragic accident. Leffingwell said the city always assesses the safety of its events, but reminded reporters this is uncommon for SXSW.

“South by Southwest is a longtime event … this is the first time we’ve had anything like this,” he said. 

Many internet-savvy festival-goers took in real-time reports of the accident from social media.

Officers had closed off a two-block section of downtown Austin and continued to investigate into the early morning. Acevedo said there were no plans to change safety protocols at the festival.

On mobile? Watch video from the scene here.

With files from The Associated Press