AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department (APD) upped patrols on Rainey Street over the weekend – and we sat down with one of the department’s assistant chiefs to see how it went.
The increased safety measures were prompted by two drowning deaths that occurred this year, according to a press release about the initiative. Both cases are still under investigation, but police said there is currently no evidence of foul play.
The patrols “have been met with a great deal of positivity coming from the bar patrons in the area,” APD Asst. Chief Jeff Greenwalt said.
He said officers performed standard downtown duties like breaking up fights, and in one instance over the weekend, patrons asked officers to help them find their friend they hadn’t been able to find for a couple of hours.
“They were flagged down by some concerned citizens about a missing person,” Greenwalt said. “They had a friend who went missing several hours earlier in the night at a particular bar, and when [officers] went to the bar to look for that individual, they found that person passed out in the bathroom – but they found him.”
Greenwalt said that person is okay.
Meghan, who works on Rainey Street, said she appreciates a ramped-up focus on safety in the area, but didn’t notice a change when she worked over the weekend.
“Not more than usual, at least,” she said about the police presence.
The initiative includes APD officers patrolling the area and additional park rangers stationed along the trail.
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“There are a lot of allegations that there’s a serial killer, but there’s no proof or evidence in any of our investigations to sustain that,” Greenwalt said.
Meghan said it’s a popular topic of conversation among customers, and at times – she’s noticed people more on edge in the district.
“My suggestion is don’t go out alone late at night, and if you’re going to be drinking, don’t do it alone,” she said.
According to city officials, there have been five late night/overnight drownings near Rainey Street since 2014, including the deaths of Jason John and Jonathan Honey. A press release form the City of Austin states the medical examiner performed autopsies in each case, and the previous three were ruled accidental – with none of the autopsies revealing any trauma or indicating any foul play.
Plans for trail cameras, more lighting
“No night out in our Downtown or on our trail should end in tragedy and trauma. We must use every tool in our toolbox to ensure our public spaces are safe and secure for everyone,” said District 9 Council Member Zo Qadri.
Qadri has led the recent charge to evaluate what can be done to make the trailhead area safer near Rainey Street.
Right before South by Southwest started, the Parks and Recreation Department installed four sets of solar-powered lights and a fence along the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail near Rainey Street.
Last month, friends and family members of people who went missing near the trail spoke at a City Council Public Safety Committee meeting about Rainey Street safety. Aside from lighting, their primary concern was the lack of surveillance near the water – because questions still remain about what happened before their loved ones entered the water.
“Unfortunately all of us are left with this huge gap in our lives. We really need some answers. We just kind of feel like we know it’s more than likely going to happen again,” said Christopher Pugh, whose 21-year-old son Christian went missing for three days before crews found him near the lake with serious injuries. Christian is still alive.
Council Member Qadri plans to introduce a resolution later this month that would include recommendations on cameras, lighting and partnerships with the TABC and bar owners.