NEW YORK – It was a horrific day on Times Square. A vehicle driving through New York City’s iconic landmark plowed into a crowd, killing a woman and injuring 22 other people during Thursday’s lunchtime rush, authorities said.
The driver was identified as Richard Rojas, 26, according to police. He was driving down Seventh Avenue in Manhattan when he made a sudden U-turn, drove onto a sidewalk and continued at a “high rate” for several blocks, reported the Washington Post. In doing so, he struck unsuspecting pedestrians along the way. An 18-year-old woman was hit and killed, and her 13-year-old sister was injured, authorities said. Police did not release information about the other victims.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said during an afternoon news conference that there is no indication the incident was related to terrorism. He said it was a “tough day for New York City but, as usual, the people of New York City will stand firm.”
People described the horror on social media, saying a car had driven onto a sidewalk in Times Square, mowed down pedestrians and crashed. Witnesses said the wounded were “laying on the sidewalks” and others were “screaming and running, the place is swarming with emergency vehicles and cops.” Those in the area were told to shelter in place while emergency crews responded to aid the injured.
In the aftermath, the vehicle sat smoldering, tilted on one side, at the corner of 45th Street.
Times Square just went nuts. People screaming and running, the place is swarming with emergency vehicles and cops. People injured. WTF pic.twitter.com/oqQFcr75Uh
— Josh Silverman (@Bad_Episode) May 18, 2017
Joshua Duboff, who works at the nearby Thomson Reuters headquarters, said he was walking to get lunch when he heard a loud screech, then saw a car make an aggressive turn from 42nd Street, swerve and pop the curb, according to the Post.
Duboff said he thought it was swerving to avoid an accident but then saw it “plowing through people.”
“I realized it wasn’t going to stop anytime soon and I had to make a quick decision,” he said, adding: “I basically jumped out of the way as the car was approaching me. I barely missed it.”
Duboff said he does not remember the few seconds after that but he has minor cuts on his knees, which makes him think he fell on them. In all the chaos with people yelling and crying, he said he saw the woman who died. She was lying not far behind him. Although it was extremely tragic, he said, “It could have been so much worse than it was” because of the number of people in Times Square.
Authorities said Rojas, the driver, who is from the Bronx, is a U.S. Navy veteran with a criminal history that includes two arrests for driving while intoxicated — once in 2008 and again in 2015, reported the Washington Post.
Immediately after the crash Thursday he reportedly tried to flee the scene on foot. A door host supervisor at nearby Planet Hollywood and another bystander tackled Rojas and held him until police arrived, according to the Associated Press.
Rojas was taken into custody and was being tested for drugs and alcohol, police said. The test results are unknown.
(Photo courtesy Josh Silverman Twitter)