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SXSW Crash Victims with Rogers Park Ties Focus of Benefit at Heartland Cafe

By Benjamin Woodard | March 21, 2014 6:40am
  Evan and Jamie West, former Rogers Park residents, were among those struck by a car at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas,  on March 13.
Evan and Jamie West
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ROGERS PARK — Evan and Jamie West's marriage of nearly two years had been rooted in Rogers Park.

They lived here and served food and drinks at the Heartland Cafe before moving to Austin, Texas, to start fresh, family and friends said.

But last week, the couple's life together ended when authorities said a drunken driver slammed into crowd of revelers at Austin's South By Southwest festival, killing Jamie and critically injuring Evan.

Now, friends and family in Texas and Chicago are rallying to raise money for Evan's recovery.

"It was surreal; I couldn’t even believe it," said Rogers Park resident Sarah Skinner of when she heard her friends had been among the 22 injured and three killed. "We were all heartbroken. Jamie was lovely, and we all loved Evan — and they were in love."

'What am I supposed to do now?'

Evan and Jamie West were sitting on their motorcycle at an intersection early on March 13 when they allegedly were struck by Rashad Charjuan Owens, who police say evaded a traffic stop and had a blood-alcohol content of 0.11.  Police caught him, and he faces capital murder charges, according to media reports.

Jamie West died at the scene. She was 27.

Evan West, 28, suffered head trauma, a broken leg and ribs and internal injuries to his organs, his brother, Allyn West, said in a phone interview.

As of Thursday, Allyn West said, his brother was conscious and had been moved out of intensive care. But Evan West's brain injury has made it impossible for him to remember exactly what happened to his wife, Allyn West said.

"We’ve told him, and he was exhibiting the responses that you would expect in that situation," Allyn West said. "He kept asking me if he had done anything wrong or anyone was blaming him."

He said his brother asked him Thursday morning, "What am I supposed to do now?" — but his understanding of the situation "comes and goes."

"He tends to forget the exact circumstances of what had happened," Allyn West said. "He doesn't know really how to go on."

From Chicago to Austin

Allyn West said his brother and sister-in-law — both artists, vegans and socially conscious — grew up in Garrett, Ind., where they met in high school.

They started dating in their college years.

After graduating, his brother moved to Rogers Park and helped run the restaurant's radio show, "Live From the Heartland," before eventually becoming a server and bartender. 

"He's a warm, shy guy, and really together — and could run lots of things," said Heartland co-founder Michael James of when West worked for him on the show he hosts. (Coincidentally, James' son had been performing at South By Southwest in another part of Austin with his band Twin Peaks when the crash occurred.)

When Jamie West finished her degree, she moved in and "they made their home in Rogers Park," Allyn West said.

They owned two dogs.

But in 2010, West said, the couple's relationship went through some struggles, and his brother moved to Texas to "carve out a life for himself" without Jamie.

Heartbroken, West said, his brother only lasted four months before returning to Chicago — unannounced — in an attempt to rekindle their relationship.

"He planned this sort of grand romantic gesture to win Jamie back and bring her to Austin," West said.

It worked.

She followed him back to Texas; they married in June 2012.

Before her death, Jamie West was applying for a prestigious art residency in Houston while working at a jewelry boutique shop. Her husband was working as a server at a high-end movie theater's restaurant and bar.

"There were really sweet together. They balanced each other out really well," said Rogers Park's Sarah Skinner, a close friend of the couple who initially moved to Austin with West in 2010. "It was obvious to everyone ... they stick together like puzzle pieces."

Skinner's fiancé, Brettly Kawaguchi, 41, also worked with West, who would sometimes run the sound board at the Red Line Tap on Glenwood Avenue.

Kawaguchi and Skinner had also broken up when the move to Austin happened, and were reunited about the same time as Evan and Jamie West.

Kawaguchi said he's planning a benefit next month at the Heartland Cafe and Red Line Tap to help pay for West's medical care, including an expected longterm rehabilitation.

"I’m still floored, I'm still utterly floored. Every time I think of it I get goose bumps," Kawaguchi said. "They were both sweet people, good kids, and they didn’t deserve this, neither of them, by any means."

Evan West's family is accepting online donations for his medical care.