Driver runs over pedestrians in Times Square

By William Hennelly in New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-05-19 11:24

Driver runs over pedestrians in Times Square

A driver careening against traffic in New York's Times Square on Thursday struck more than 20 pedestrians, fatally injuring a young woman before his car came to a stop on two wheels.

The chaotic scene disrupted the heart of midtown Manhattan on a sweltering afternoon for more than four hours, stranding workers in their offices and tourists wheeling suitcases.

The driver was identified as Richard Rojas, 26, of the Bronx, New York, a former US Navy sailor.

Police said Rojas made a sudden U-turn onto West 42nd Street and drove north up the sidewalk for three blocks, passing tourist attractions such as the Hard Rock Cafe and the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co restaurant and plowing through people.

Rojas' burgundy Honda Accord sedan was smoking when it came to a stop on top of a metal stanchion at West 45th Street and Broadway, where it remained at least until 6 pm.

Rojas had been arrested twice for drunken driving in 2008 and 2015, and once earlier this month for menacing. Court records showed Rojas also was arrested at a naval base in Jacksonville, Florida, in September 2012, after he yelled, "My life is over," and threatened to kill police.

Daily, citing law enforcement sources, said Rojas had smoked K-2, a synthetic form of marijuana, before the rampage. "People were being hit and rolling off the car," said Josh Duboff, who works at the nearby Thomson Reuters headquarters. He said he leapt out of the way to avoid being struck.

The body of a young woman identified as Alyssa Elsman, 18, a visitor from Portage, Michigan, lay covered with a bloodstained sheet at 43rd Street. Her 13-year-old sister also was injured. A police officer kept vigil nearby, sadly shaking his head. Shoes were scattered on the sidewalk.

After the crash, the driver climbed out of the car and began to run away, witnesses and police said.

Ken Bradix, a bouncer at Planet Hollywood, punched him to get him to stop, according to Alpha Balde, a sightseeing-ticket seller.

"The bouncer from Planet Hollywood knocked him out," Balde told the New York Daily News. "He knocked him out so bad you could see the blood coming out of his face. That's when I jumped in, I grabbed him from his neck and within about one minute everybody's there."

Balde said he and Bradix jumped on top of Rojas, tearing his shirt to make sure he had no weapons, holding him until police arrived moments later.

He fought with officers who then handcuffed him, authorities said.

The New York Police Department has a station right at 43rd Street and Seventh Avenue, so the response to the incident was almost instantaneous.

The incident took place close to 12 pm ET. Security camera footage showed the car slam into pedestrians who moments earlier were ambling along, some carrying shopping bags and others pushing baby strollers.

After the incident, police cordoned off an area from West 41st to 47th streets and from Sixth to Eighth avenues for a few hours.

The incident occurred near the headquarters of China Daily USA, 1500 Broadway and West 43rd Street.

Another witness, who would only identify himself as Andrew, said the driver was "aiming for as many people as he could possibly get. ... It was very bloody, very disturbing."

A pregnant 38-year-old teacher from Baltimore who would only give her last name, Martin, said, "A man pulled me out of the way of the car," she said. "I think he saved my life."

A random sampling of tourists in the area included a woman from South China who just wanted to get back to her hotel with her infant son. A mother and daughter visiting from Austria were relieved they spent the day on the beach in Coney Island in Brooklyn and missed the commotion. A couple from Southampton, England, said they happened to be in a nearby pub so they also missed the tragedy.

It was a scene that New Yorkers and unsuspecting tourists have become used to in a post-9/11 world, with the initial fearful reaction that it was terrorism and then the subsequent exasperation that one of the busiest intersections in the world was shut down.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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