UPDATED 7:45 P.M. THURSDAY
WASHINGTON – An 18-year-old tourist was killed and 22 other pedestrians were injured in New York when a motorist drove three blocks on the sidewalks at Times Square shortly before noon Thursday.
The driver, Richard Rojas, 26, of the Bronx, was taken into custody at the scene, New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill said at news conference about 90 minutes after the incident. Preliminary information showed that Rojas has “a few arrests” –including two DUIs, O’Neill said.
New York’s mayor and police commissioner rushed to the scene, fearing a terrorist attack.
“The worst went through my mind and that’s why the mayor and I came here as quickly as we could,” Police Commissioner James O’Neill said at an afternoon new conference near the crash scene.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and O’Neill reassured the public that the incident was not terror-related.
“Based on the information we have at this moment, there is no indication that this was an act of terrorism,” the mayor said.
Nevertheless, he said, “we are reinforcing key locations around the city with our anti-terror units of the NYPD. So out of an abundance of caution, major sites in the city will get additional police coverage by our anti-terror units.”
He expressed sympathy for those injured and especially for the woman who was killed and her family.
The Michigan tourist, later identified as Alyssa Elsman, was pronounced dead at the scene. Her 13-year-old sister was injured, officials said.
De Blasio said the driver was a U.S. citizen and a Navy veteran.
At 11:55 a.m., Rojas mounted the sidewalk on the west side of Seventh Avenue at West 42nd Street and drove north – against traffic on the one-way thoroughfare – for three blocks, O’Neill said. The 2009 burgundy Honda Accord struck 23 pedestrians, he said.
Witnesses said the driver was speeding, seemed to be aiming for pedestrians, appeared to be angry and was yelling.
The car ended up tilted on its left tires at West 45th Street, where street barriers stopped it, O’Neill said. Photos showed the car caught fire and was totaled.
Rojas, who did not appear to be injured, got out of the car and ran. But he was grabbed quickly by bystanders, including a parole officer, who detained him until police arrived. Police took away in handcuffs.
Emergency vehicles and police officers flooded the area. Streets were blocked off and some businesses were put on lockdown.
The first responders arrived quickly, the police commissioner said, and began treating the injured. Their quick responses might have minimized the casualties, he said.
“There has been a very substantial increase of police officers who patrol Times Square in recent years” due to terrorism fears, de Blasio interjected.
Commissioner Daniel Nigro of the New York Fire Department said all of the injured were transported to local hospitals for treatment. Four people were in critical condition, with “open fractures” and “multiple traumas.” But “none of those four are likely to perish,” he said. Three other people had serious but not critical injuries, and 15 people had less serious injuries, he added.
— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) May 18, 2017