Deranged motorist drove his car onto a crowded Times Square sidewalk, mows down 23 passengers in NewYork
New York, May19:With voices in his head and drugs in his system, a deranged motorist drove his car onto a crowded Times Square sidewalk and mowed down 23 passengers — including an 18-year-old Michigan woman who died in front of her little sister.
Richard Rojas’ maroon Honda Accord carved a three-block path of destruction along Seventh Ave. just before noon on Thursday. Stunning video shows the car knocking down pedestrians like bowling pins, with bodies tossed through the air from the impact.
“It looked like he was trying to hit them,” said witness Annie Donahey, 24. “He wasn’t trying to go back on the street.”
The 26-year-old Bronx man’s rampage ended when he slammed into a metal barrier at W. 45th St.
The Navy vet climbed from his crumpled car, but was grabbed by a pair of bystanders and held for cops, witnesses said.
The crazed motorist, who has two prior DWI arrests, was believed to be high on drugs and wracked by delusional thoughts, sources said.
Sources said Rojas told cops something along the lines of, “This was the last day on Earth.”
He claimed to hear voices and suggested that he believed officers were going to kill him.
“This wasn’t like a normal interview,” a source said. “He’s rambling.”
Rojas was charged with murder, 20 counts of attempted murder and five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide late Thursday.
Investigators were confident tests would reveal he had used drugs, sources said. One source said it appeared he was high on PCP.
Michigan tourist Alyssa Elsman died at the scene. Her 13-year-old sister Ava was injured and was being treated late Thursday at Bellevue Hospital, officials said. The girls were visiting the city with their mother and planned to return home on Tuesday.
Four victims were rushed to area hospitals in critical condition. They suffered “open fractures and multiple traumas,” but the injuries were not believed to be life-threatening, said FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro.
Three suffered serious injuries, and 15 others sustained minor injuries, authorities said.
“This is a tough day for New York City, but as usual, the people of New York City will stand firm, will be resilient,” Mayor de Blasio said.
De Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill rushed to the scene fearing that the incident was an act of terror.
In a news conference at the scene, they repeated several times that the incident didn’t appear to be tied to terrorism.
“The worst went through my mind, and that’s why the mayor and I came here as quickly as we could,” O’Neill said.
Rojas was traveling south on Seventh Ave. at 11:55 a.m. when he made a sharp U-turn and roared onto the sidewalk at W. 42nd St., cops said. The car barreled into nearly two dozen pedestrians as it sped north along three blocks, cops said. Witnesses said the driver kept going even as a body clung to his windshield.
The dramatic video shows the car swerving into a half-dozen people strolling along the sidewalk. The vehicle hurls the unsuspecting pedestrians into the air before speeding out of the frame.
Donahey said she heard several sickening “thuds.”
“It was the sounds of bodies being hit. Then came the screams,” she said.
“People were jumping out of the way, but he just kept going.”
Street vendor Duane Jackson, 46, said he was checking his email when he heard the sound of a car skidding and saw pedestrians dashing out of the way.
The vehicle slammed into the cylindrical barriers arrayed along the corner of W. 45th St. The Honda flipped onto its side, its windshield smashed and hood on fire.
“Thank God that he hit it or he would have went right into Swatch,” Jackson said, referring to a nearby watch and accessories store.
Rojas wriggled out of his crushed car, but he didn’t get far.
A tour bus ticket agent and Planet Hollywood bouncer grabbed the motorist.
“He was on something, definitely,” said witness Anthony McInnis, 49. “He was sweating like crazy. He was erratic.”
Rojas’ Honda left behind a trail of wounded victims, pools of blood and scattered car parts.
“It was total chaos, total shock,” said Kelly Graves, 54, a tourist from Wisconsin.
“You didn’t know what happened until you actually saw people and the police running and people laying on the sidewalk.”
Rojas, sporting blood smears on his left cheek and temple, said nothing as he was led out of the 7th Precinct stationhouse about 7 p.m. Thursday.
He was arrested for driving while impaired in 2015 in Manhattan, and again in 2008 in Queens. His most recent bust came on May 11 when prosecutors say he pulled a knife on a man inside his Morris Heights apartment.
“Do you feel safe? You stole my identity,” Rojas told the man while gripping his neck, according to court records.
Rojas was charged with menacing and criminal possession of a weapon.
A close friend said Rivera wasn’t the same after leaving the Navy in May 2014.
“He was having bad nightmares. He’s talking crazy,” said Harrison Ramos, 30.
“His medicine was buying liquor to forget everything. He was talking about demons, and devils and conspiracies. He was drinking a lot lately.”
Rojas, who enlisted in September 2011, spent two months in the brig in Charleston, S.C., according to CBS News. He was accused of beating a cab driver on a naval base in Jacksonville, Fla., after refusing to pay a $44 fare.
“He did not come back normal,” Ramos said.
“I saw him about a week ago. He seemed a little lost in the world. He wasn’t in all of his five senses.”
Police said Rojas was obsessed with Scientology and had accumulated piles of literature on the controversial religion.
Other friends said Rojas, who was trying to work in real estate, had just gotten back his Honda after it had been repossessed.
The Navy vet went out drinking Wednesday night and appeared to be in good spirits.
“This is really crazy,” said pal Jose Medrano. “He doesn’t cause trouble. This is really weird. He’s a low-key person. He’s a family man.”
Among the 13 victims rushed to Bellevue Hospital was retired teacher William Nelson, 64.
Nelson, of Park Slope, Brooklyn, suffered head and leg injuries but was responding to commands, relatives said.
“He squeezed his hand and wiggled his toes,” said son William Jr., whose sister was also at the hospital. “He’s on a breathing tube and is heavily sedated. It’s really hard for both of us. We just lost our mother and now our father’s upstairs.”
Ariel Lebowits, 39, a Brooklyn father of two, suffered a concussion and bruised face.
“He doesn’t even remember a car hitting him,” said his brother Chaim Lebowits, 34. “Thank God he’s all right.”
Thomas Henry, 72, of Queens, was taking his relatives from Guyana on a sightseeing tour when the car jumped the sidewalk and bore down on them.
Henry’s face was bruised and he had a large knot on the back of his head as he left the hospital supported by his daughter.
“In my mind I could see this dark-colored car, I did not know, I thought it was a dream,” he said. “Then I realized it was not an accident, it was reality.”
FDNY Chief Mark Foris, of Battalion 9, and his team had rescued nine people trapped in a Times Square elevator before he stepped outside in time to witness the carnage.
The car smashed into the barrier and caught fire before his eyes.
“There was a person unconscious right next to the car,” Foris said.
“As I continued down, I realized that this wasn’t one or two injuries. This was a mass casualty incident,” Foris recalled. “I told my aide, ‘We need a lot of units.’”
Rojas was being held at the Midtown South precinct station house. He was initially taken to Bellevue Hospital, but it was not clear if it was for a physical injury or a psychiatric evaluation.