What to Know
- A car slammed into a crowd of pedestrians in the heart of Times Square shortly before noon Thursday; police say Richard Rojas was driving
- Authorities said there was no evidence of terror, but police aren't ruling out that the crash was deliberate
- Rojas, 26, said he smoked drugs before the crash and heard voices telling him to hurt people, sources said
Police are considering the possibility that Thursday's deadly crash in Times Square was a deliberate act after the driver told police he smoked drugs and heard voices telling him to hurt people before the chaos unfolded, law enforcement sources said.
An 18-year-old woman was killed and 22 people were injured when 26-year-old Richard Rojas turned the wrong way onto Seventh Avenue in the heart of Times Square and sped along the sidewalk for three-and-a-half blocks, police said.
Authorities don't believe the crash was terror-related, but investigators aren't ruling out that it was deliberate, sources said.
What happening in Times Square?? This car was in the sidewalk and people are on the streets pic.twitter.com/PsepRtfrAr— gb (@gb__) May 18, 2017
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
Crazy car crash in the middle of Times Square. We are being told to shelter in place pic.twitter.com/jvEhISIhcn— Christopher Rudolph (@chrisreindeer) May 18, 2017
yc times square car in flames https://t.co/8VqYchgLKk— Richard D. (@flacoman91) May 18, 2017
One male in custody in the #TimesSquare vehicle collision.— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) May 18, 2017
It is believed to be an isolated incident, it remains under investigation.
My heart goes out to the family who lost a loved one and those injured in Times Square crash. Thank you to NYFD and NYPD for swift response— Carolyn B. Maloney (@RepMaloney) May 18, 2017
In Times Square getting briefed by the NYPD. pic.twitter.com/xUR4kAPBnZ— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) May 18, 2017
As Rojas was being arrested, police said he was acting out of control and seemed impaired. He told police he heard demons in his head and voices telling him to hurt people, sources said, adding he has a history of psychiatric problems.
Sources said certain statements and tests suggest Rojas was under the influence of a drug he ingested through smoking. They said he blew a 0.0 when tested for alcohol at the precinct he was brought to for questioning.
Police charged Rojas with a slew of charges, including second-degree murder, 20 counts of second-degree attempted murder and five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, authorities said.
Former NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said police will do a roll-back investigation, looking at his computers and cell phones, and talking with neighbors and friends.
"Was there something else going on? Was this in fact intentional?" Bratton said.
Rojas is a former member of the armed services with a history of arrests for DWI, according to officials and law enforcement sources. He was dishonorably discharged from the Navy, where he once served aboard the USS Carney, for resisting arrest in Florida in 2014. Charges were dropped in the case.
Harrison Ramos, a friend, told reporters that Rojas hadn't been the same since he returned from active duty in the Navy. He says Rojas was posting "crazy stuff" online that has since been taken down, according to The Associated Press. Other friends say he was having money troubles.
Rojas was most recently arrested on a menacing charge last week for allegedly pulling a knife on an acquaintance in the Bronx.
On Thursday evening, police were at an apartment where Rojas stayed with his mother in the Mount Eden section of the Bronx. Law enforcement sources said police are obtaining a search warrant and will soon begin looking for evidence that could help explain what led to the crash.
Rojas' mother was also brought in for questioning; she said nothing to reporters as detectives led her to a waiting car.
Fati Smith, a neighbor who has known the Rojas family for years, said she couldn't stop crying since she learned the news. She said she's in disbelief. Another neighbor said Rojas is a "good person" and he doesn't know what happened to him.
Authorities stress the investigation is ongoing, but details are beginning to emerge about the man who incited horror and total panic in the Crossroads of the World.
Here's what we know about Rojas, from sources and officials:
- 26-year-old U.S. citizen and former member of the Navy, where he had the rank of electrician's mate fireman apprentice
- Lives in the Bronx, has two prior arrests for DWI in New York, including one in Queens in 2008 and another in 2015
- In one of the DWI cases, he was driving faster than 99 mph in a 50 mph zone
- Resisted police during a DUI arrest in Florida, resulting in a dishonorable discharge from the Navy in 2014; criminal charges against him were dropped in the case
- Most recently arrested last week in the Bronx on a charge of menacing; officials said he pulled a knife on an aquaintance
- Blew a 0.0 when tested for alcohol after crash at police precinct; a law enforcement official said test and statements suggested he was under the influence of a drug
- Has a history of psychiatric problems, as well as drug and alcohol abuse; he claims to have heard voices in his head before the crash
- So far, he has been found to have no links to terror