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SXSW crash survivors waiting for help

Deandre Tatum, left, and Curtisha Davis were injured at South by Southwest (SXSW) crash shortly after midnight Thursday, March 13, 2014, in Austin.
Deandre Tatum, left, and Curtisha Davis were injured at South by Southwest (SXSW) crash shortly after midnight Thursday, March 13, 2014, in Austin.

A Trimble Tech High School alumna badly injured in a fatal crash that killed her boyfriend at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin last year hasn’t received much help from a victim’s fund, a year later.

Curtisha “Tish” Davis, 19, suffered a broken neck, arm and leg after a man fleeing police plowed through a barricade and crashed into festival-goers on March 13, 2014, killing four and injuring more than 20. Her boyfriend, De’Andre Tatum, 18, died in a Austin hospital two weeks later.

A charitable fund set up by South by Southwest and The Mohawk bar and live music venue the same day as the crash has raised $254,046 so far, but only a third of that money has been distributed to the victims or their families said lawyers for victims.

Curtisha Davis’s mom, Regina Davis, said she doesn’t understand what, if anything she is entitled to.

“The last time I heard from them was last June,” Regina Davis told the Star-Telegram Sunday. “This is new.”

As of this week, $77,340 had been paid out from the SXSW Cares Fund.

The fund’s stewards said they’ve made every effort to reach out to victims, and they said that other pots of money, such as a state victims’ compensation program and insurance payments, have already paid some victims’ costs. They also emphasized that the fund is just a year old and will be there to help victims in the long run.

But some victims say not enough has been done.

Regina Davis said her daughter isn’t completely healed from the tragedy.

“Physically she is OK. Mentally — no. She has a lot of depression,” Regina Davis said said.

The fund offers up to $1,000 for mental health services, but Curtisha Davis hasn’t seen any of the money, her mother said.

Austin police said 21-year-old Rashad Owens stole a car and was fleeing police when he drunkenly crashed into a crowd of people on Red River Street that Thursday.

Davis said she said she wasn’t sure whether Tatum’s family received money, and added that the mother hasn’t spoken out much since the accident killed her son. Tatum’s family could not be reached for comment.

University of Texas student JC Leuro suffered a sprained elbow and rib in the crash. He said he knew next to nothing about what happened with the fund.

“For most of the time, I kind of felt like I was out of the loop and was trying to deal with this all on my own,” Leuro said. “I had seen people talk about donating money to victims, but I never got an answer as to where that was going, and who that was distributed to, so I felt left out in a sense.”

Lawyers call funds “nominal”

The Austin Community Foundation holds and distributes money from the SXSW Cares Fund. Austin police collaborate with the Austin Community Foundation and the American Red Cross to vet applications, said Kachina Clark, manager of the police’s victim services division.

SXSW plays no part in the process.

All 28 victims or their families received a $500 gift card immediately after the crash, Clark said. Eight victims or their families have received assistance beyond that, said Robin Bradford, director of communications and advancement for the Austin Community Foundation.

Clark said there were caps on the amount of money victims could receive from the fund to make sure there was enough to go around. The caps were “guidelines,” and victims could receive more, Bradford said.

The caps were $850 a month for rent for up to six months; $200 a month for utilities for up to six months; $2,000 for medical expenses; $500 for incidentals; $1,000 for mental health services; $3,000 for funeral expenses; $400 a month for food and basic needs for up to six months; $300 for travel expenses (some also received airline vouchers from the American Red Cross); $500 a week for lost wages for up to four weeks; and $3,000 for “tools of the trade,” or work-related items damaged in the crash.

Davis said her family received payment for a month’s worth of electricity and a month and a half’s worth of rent.

The caps are similar to those used by the Texas attorney general’s crime victims’ compensation program, which can provide victims with up to $50,000 — and more if they are permanently disabled. Citing privacy concerns and attorney general office policy, a spokeswoman declined to release the amount of money SXSW victims received through that program.

Davis said her daughter received $300 in lost wages from the Texas attorney general’s crime victims’ compensation program, but the money stopped coming when they found out the family hired a lawyer.

Two lawyers representing victims in lawsuits against SXSW organizers called the allotments from the fund “nominal.”

Bill Curtis, a lawyer representing three SXSW crash victims including the Davises, said the fund was a “PR maneuver” that didn’t solve the main issue at hand: making sure a similar tragedy won’t happen again.

“From a realistic perspective, they’re taking donations from others, giving them off to people who were badly injured, and nowhere along the line did SXSW step up and say, ‘This is our problem, and we’re going to solve it,’” Curtis said.

In a statement, SXSW said funds are still available to assist victims, “including those suing SXSW.”

“It is sad to hear a plaintiff’s lawyer call an act of generosity from around the world a PR stunt,” the statement says.

The crash happened in the early morning hours of March 13, 2014. By that afternoon, the fund was up and running, as its organizers saw a prime opportunity: then-Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell was appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live that night. Information about the fund appeared on the program.

Within 24 hours of the fund opening, more than $75,000 had been donated.

“It had to happen quickly. We didn’t want to wait two weeks,” when the attention would start to fade, said James Moody, owner of the Mohawk. He noted that, of the money raised, “most of it was donations of $100, $200, $500.”

The Austin Community Foundation released a list of the largest donors but declined to provide the dollar amounts given. Among those donors were SXSW LLC and SXSW managing director Roland Swenson.

The fund is still accepting donations at austincommunityfoundation.org. Victims who wish to seek assistance may contact Austin police’s victim services division at 512-974-5037.

If it’s determined the fund is no longer needed and there’s still money in it, Bradford said, the Austin Community Foundation would consult with the fund holders, which are Moody and SXSW Interactive director Hugh Forrest.

Star-Telegram staff writer Monica S. Nagy contributed to this report.

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