Man mows down pedes­tri­ans in the heart of Times Square, killing teenager

NT News - - NEWS -

NEW YORK: A man steered his car onto a side­walk run­ning through the heart of Times Square and mowed down pedes­tri­ans for three blocks, killing a teenager, then emerged from his wrecked ve­hi­cle wildeyed and wav­ing his arms be­fore he was sub­dued by po­lice and by­standers.

The driver, a 26-year-old US Navy vet­eran, told of­fi­cers he was hear­ing voices and ex­pected to die, two law en­force­ment of­fi­cials said.

Help­less pedes­tri­ans had lit­tle time to re­act as the car bar­relled down the side­walk and through in­ter­sec­tions be­fore smash­ing into a row of steel se­cu­rity bar­ri­ers in­stalled in re­cent years to pre­vent ve­hi­cle at­tacks on the square where mas­sive crowds gather ev­ery New Year’s Eve. The car came to rest with its two right wheels in the air.

“He didn’t stop,” said Asa Lowe, of Brook­lyn, who was stand­ing out­side a store when he heard scream­ing as peo­ple scat­tered. “He just kept go­ing.”

Po­lice said 23 peo­ple were hit by the car, in­clud­ing an 18year-old tourist, Alyssa Els­man, from Michi­gan, who died.

Her 13-year-old sis­ter was among the in­jured. A fire depart­ment chief, Mark Foris, was at an un­re­lated el­e­va­tor res­cue when he saw the car speed by.

“This is more than just a car ac­ci­dent,” he thought as he walked among bleed­ing vic­tims.

The car­nage raised im­me­di­ate fears of ter­ror­ism, fu­elled by re­cent at­tacks in Eng­land, France and Ger­many in which ve­hi­cles ploughed through crowds of pedes­tri­ans. But in­ves­ti­ga­tors quickly turned their fo­cus to the so­bri­ety and men­tal health of the driver, iden­ti­fied as Bronx res­i­dent Richard Ro­jas.

“There is no in­di­ca­tion that this was an act of ter­ror­ism,” Mayor Bill de Bla­sio said.

Pho­tog­ra­phers snapped pic­tures of Ro­jas af­ter he climbed from the wrecked car and ran through the street be­fore he was tack­led by a group that in­cluded a ticket seller and a mus­cu­lar door su­per­vi­sor at a nearby Planet Hol­ly­wood res­tau­rant. Ro­jas ini­tially tested neg­a­tive for al­co­hol, but more de­tailed test­ing was be­ing done to de­ter­mine if he was high, ac­cord­ing to two law en­force­ment of­fi­cials who spoke to The Associated Press on the con­di­tion of anonymity.

The of­fi­cials said Ro­jas told of­fi­cers he had been hear­ing voices. A week ago, Ro­jas was ar­rested and charged with point­ing a knife at a no­tary, whom he ac­cused of steal­ing his iden­tity. He pleaded guilty to a ha­rass­ment vi­o­la­tion.

He was ar­rested on charges of driv­ing while in­tox­i­cated in 2008 and 2015, po­lice Com­mis­sioner James O’Neill said.

He pleaded guilty to an in­frac­tion in 2015 and was or­dered to com­plete a drunk­endriv­ing pro­gram.

Pic­tures: DIIMEX/AP

The car in Times Square and (inset left) po­lice ar­rest Richard Ro­jas and (inset right) vic­tim Alyssa Els­man

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