SXSW is an Austin music festival that has, in later years, morphed into a huge multimedia conference with events in industries like film, tech, and art.

This year’s SXSW, however, was struck by tragedy when 21-year-old Rashad Owens, in an intoxicated attempt to flee from the police, drove straight into a crowd, injuring more than 20 fest-goers and killing, as of today, three victims.

I myself love going to concerts and musicfests. My first memory was Lollapalooza ’94 (yes, I just dated myself) with headliners like Green Day, Rage Against the Machine, Beastie Boys, and Smashing Pumpkins. The year my season of “MasterChef” aired, I organized a weekend at Austin City Limits with my newfound friends from the show. Last year, I went to Houston’s fast-growing Free Press Summer Fest. Along with most everyone in attendance, I go to musicfests to enjoy live music and have a good, relaxing time with friends. And so when I heard about this sad and very unfortunate incident at this year’s SXSW, I was dumbfounded by how something that was meant to be a good time resulted in terrible, life-changing circumstances for so many.

There are two people in particular whose families have been deeply affected by the 2014 SXSW tragedy, which has garnered much national press. The first is Gracie Nguyen, a 23-year-old Vietnamese-American and student at my alma mater University of Houston’s Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management. She was also a pastry chef at the notable Houston fine dining establishment, Mark’s American Cuisine. Gracie is a single mother and sustained several fractures to her leg and skull. Her friends and family started a fundraising page for Gracie with donations providing relief from medical bills and income loss while she endures a long recovery.

The other person affected by the accident is connected to me by two degrees: Jamie West, the 27-year-old sister-in-law of my former schoolmate, Allyn West. In my first year at UH’s Creative Writing Program, I’d taken an Emily Dickinson class with Allyn—he’d written this great little piece on his experience with me in class and then later at my cookbook signing. Allyn’s brother, Evan, and Jamie were struck in the accident while on their mo-ped; Jamie sadly died on the scene, while Evan remains in the hospital with sustained injuries. Allyn has also set up a fundraiser for Jamie and Evan, where relief efforts will help lay Jamie to rest and Evan with medical bills and the long road ahead.

The third person who passed because of this accident is Sandy Le, who had been on life support and passed away a few days ago.

I don’t normally blog more than once a week, but I felt this news was important and timely, and I wanted to do what little I could to help a few of those whose lives will be forever changed by what happened on March 13th in Austin. Thoughts, prayers, and support will be greatly appreciated by the loved ones of Gracie, Jamie, and those injured in this tragedy.

Be safe, everyone.


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