News World One dead, 22 injured in NYC Times Square car rampage

One dead, 22 injured in NYC Times Square car rampage

times square attack
Richard Rojas reportedly tested positive for a mood-altering drug. Photo: Twitter
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A man who allegedly drove his car the wrong way through Times Square, in New York, killing an 18-year-old woman and injuring 22 others, has been charged with murder and attempted murder.

Richard Rojas, a 26-year-old US Navy veteran, tested positive for the drug PCP, also known as angel dust, and told police that God made him do it, CNN has reported, citing a law enforcement official.

Mr Rojas also reportedly told police: “You were supposed to shoot me, I wanted to kill them.”

The alleged incident on Friday morning (AEST) followed recent deadly car-ramming attacks in Bourke St, Melbourne, London, Berlin and the French city of Nice.

Officials quickly confirmed there was no terror link.

The victim has been identified as Michigan tourist Alyssa Elsman who was visiting New York with her family.

Victim Alyssa Elsman, 18, was a tourist from Michigan. Photo: Instagram

The New York Police Department said the accused, Mr Rojas, is a Bronx resident who was arrested in 2008 and 2015 for drunk driving.

Mr Rojas climbed from the wrecked car and ran through the street before he was tackled by a group of bystanders who included a security guard at a nearby Planet Hollywood restaurant.

“He began screaming, no particular words but just utter screaming. He was swinging his arms at the same time, said bouncer, Ken Bradix.

“There was something wrong with him.”

New York City mayor Bill De Blasio confirmed Mr Rojas was a Navy veteran and a US citizen.

In the Bronx, neighbourhood acquaintances said Mr Rojas was a friendly man but had been having problems.

Friend Harrison Ramos said Mr Rojas wasn’t the same when he came back from active duty in 2014.

“He’s been going through a real tough time,” he said.

“He should’ve gotten professional help,” he said. “He would talk about demons and devils and conspiracy theories.”

Mr Rojas enlisted in the Navy in 2011 and was an electrician’s mate fireman apprentice.

Navy records show that in 2013 he spent two months at a naval brig in Charleston, South Carolina, but didn’t indicate the reason.

He was discharged in 2014 as the result of a special court martial, a Navy official said. Details were not immediately available.

The alleged incident began at noon on Thursday (US time) on a hot, clear day that brought large crowds of people into the streets to enjoy the good weather.

Police said Mr Rojas had been driving south on Seventh Avenue when he made a quick U-turn at 42nd Street and drove up the footpath for three blocks, passing several tourist haunts along the way.

Security camera video showed people being flung in bunches over the car’s bonnet.

“People just got stunned,” said Bruno Carvalho, a student at SUNY Albany.

“I don’t think there was actually time for screaming.”

“He didn’t stop,” said Asa Lowe, of Brooklyn, who was standing outside a store when he saw people scatter. “He just kept going.”

times square rampage
Where the car came to rest in Times Square after the rampage. Photo: Getty

Pandemonium erupted when the vehicle barrelled through the prime tourist location and came to rest with two of its wheels in the air.

The car caught on fire as it perched against a lamppost and steel barriers intended to block vehicles from getting onto the footpath.

One woman was covered with a bloodstained blanket following the collision and shoes were scattered at the scene, a witness said.

“He’s just mowing down people,” said Asa Lowe, of Brooklyn, who was standing outside a store when he heard screaming. “He didn’t stop. He just kept going.”

After the car struck a barricade and stopped, the driver climbed out of his vehicle, Ms Lowe said.

“He just started running until people tackled him down,” she added said. “Citizens just reacted.”

He fought with officers who handcuffed him, authorities said.

The White House said President Donald Trump was briefed about the situation.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop later confirmed no Australians were involved.

The footpaths in many parts of Times Square are lined with metal posts designed to prevent cars from getting onto the footpaths and other public areas.

That network of barricades, though, is far from a complete defence. There are many areas where vehicles could be driven onto packed footpaths or public plazas.

times square
Richard Rojas tried to resist arrest before being taken in to custody. Photo: WABC Eyewitness News via AP

While police did not suspect a link to terrorism, the bomb squad responded as a precaution to check the vehicle.

People rushed to help the injured, who were lying on the footpath, .

Australian John Cox was on 42nd Street when the incident happened.

“The scene here is really terrible. There is a lot of New Yorkers and tourists standing around really devastated and there’s hundreds and hundreds of police officers,” he told ABC earlier on Friday.

“It’s a really sad scene. It’s really eerie.”

– with agencies

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