U.S. veteran charged with murder in deadly Times Square mayhem
|Toronto Star 19 May 2017 at 12:15|
NEW YORKâA Times Square motorist accused of steering his car onto one of the busiest sidewalks in the U.S. and mowing down pedestrians has been charged with murder and 20 counts of attempted murder, police say.
The New York Police Department said 26-year-old Richard Rojas, of the Bronx, was charged late Thursday also with five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide.
Rojas was arrested Thursday afternoon after he drove his car for three blocks in Times Square, hitting nearly two dozen people before steel security barriers finally stopped him. An 18-year-old tourist from Michigan was killed. Her 13-year-old sister was among the 22 injured, four of them critically.
Rojas is to be arraigned Friday. It wasnât clear if he a lawyer.
Officials say he had served in the U.S. navy but was discharged following disciplinary problems. After his arrest, he told police he was âhearing voicesâ and expected to die, two law enforcement officials said.
After the wreck he emerged from his vehicle running, yelling and jumping before being subdued by police and bystanders in a chaotic scene.
âHe began screaming, no particular words but just utter screaming. He was swinging his arms at the same time, said Ken Bradix, a security supervisor at a nearby Planet Hollywood restaurant who tackled Rojas.
The carnage happened in a part of the city that has long been considered a possible terrorist target because of its large crowds, a concern that became elevated after the Sept. 11 attacks and compounded by recent attacks in England, France and Germany in which vehicles plowed through crowds of pedestrians.
Rojasâ motivation was unclear, but Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio said there was âno indication that this was an act of terrorism.â
The picture that quickly emerged of Rojas from neighbours and authorities was of a man with problems.
A week ago he 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. In previous arrests, he told authorities he believed he was being harassed and followed, one of the law enforcement officials said.
Rojas was arrested on charges of driving while intoxicated in 2008 and 2015, police Commissioner James OâNeill said, losing his license for 90 days.
A neighbourhood friend in the Bronx, Harrison Ramos, said Rojas wasnât the same when he came back from the Navy in 2014.
âHeâs been going through a real tough time,â he said.
Rojas enlisted in 2011 and was an electricianâs mate fireman apprentice. In 2012 he served aboard the U.S.S. Carney, a destroyer.
Navy records show that in 2013 he spent two months at a naval brig in Charleston, South Carolina. They donât indicate why.
Rojas spent his final months in the Navy at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida, before being discharged in 2014 as the result of a special court martial, a Navy official said. Details were not immediately available.
Thursdayâs mayhem began at noon on a hot, clear day that brought large crowds of people into the streets to enjoy the good weather.
âPeople just got stunned,â said Bruno Carvalho, a student at SUNY Albany. âI donât think there was actually time for screaming.â
Workers clean the sidewalk in Times Square Friday the morning after Rojas crashed his car into a a crowd of pedestrians in New York s Times Square.Â Â (TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP / GETTY IMAGES)Â Â
Police identified the woman killed by the car as Alyssa Elsman, of Portage, Michigan.
Elsman graduated last year from Portage Central High School.
âIf you didnât know her, you might think sheâs reserved or shy,â school principal Eric Alburtus said. âBut if you could talk to her for a minute, youâd realize she was engaging. She was bright. She was funny.â