Times Square crash kills one

Driver tried to flee scene af­ter hit­ting pedes­tri­ans

Lethbridge Herald - - HEADLINE NEWS ✦ WEATHER - Colleen Long

Aman who ap­peared in­tox­i­cated drove his car the wrong way up a Times Square street and plowed into pedes­tri­ans on the side­walk Thurs­day, killing a teenager and in­jur­ing 22 other peo­ple, author­i­ties and wit­nesses said.

The driver, a 26-year-old U.S. 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 18-year-old tourist from Michi­gan who died. The woman’s 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 whiz by and called in emer­gency crews.

“This is more than just a car ac­ci­dent,” he re­called think­ing as he walked among bleed­ing pedes­tri­ans, do­ing triage on the spot. “This is a mass ca­su­alty in­ci­dent.”

The car­nage raised im­me­di­ate fears of a ter­ror­ist at­tack, 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 were not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly and 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 and was given a con­di­tional dis­charge.

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 and lost his li­cense for 90 days.

In pre­vi­ous ar­rests, he told author­i­ties he be­lieved he was be­ing ha­rassed and fol­lowed, one of the law en­force­ment of­fi­cials said.

Po­lice iden­ti­fied the woman killed by the car as Alyssa Els­man, of Portage, Michi­gan.

Els­man grad­u­ated last year from Portage North­ern High School.

“If you didn’t know her, you might think she’s re­served or shy,” school prin­ci­pal Eric Al­bur­tus said. “But if you could talk to her for a minute, you’d re­al­ize she was en­gag­ing. She was bright. She was funny.”

In the Bronx, neigh­bour­hood ac­quain­tances said Ro­jas was a friendly man who had been hav­ing prob­lems. Har­ri­son Ramos said Ro­jas wasn’t the same when he came back from ac­tive duty in 2014.

“He’s been go­ing through a real tough time,” he said.

Ro­jas en­listed in the Navy in 2011 and was an elec­tri­cian’s mate fire­man ap­pren­tice.

As­so­ci­ated Press photo

A smashed car sits on the cor­ner of Broad­way and 45th Street in New York's Times Square af­ter plough­ing through a crowd of pedes­tri­ans at lunchtime on Thurs­day. Po­lice do not sus­pect a link to ter­ror­ism and the driver was taken into cus­tody to be tested for al­co­hol.

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