Just before noon on Thursday, 26-year-old Richard Rojas drove a red Honda Accord at high speeds through the streets of New York, plowing into pedestrians before crashing into barriers in Times Square. The horrific incident resulted in the death of an 18-year-old woman and the injury of 22 people, with four in critical condition.
Though the incident resembles recent terror attacks using vehicles, the New York Police Department made clear quickly after the incident that this was not an act of terror, initially signaling that this might be a tragic case of drunk driving. According to the NYPD, Rojas, a U.S. citizen and former member of the U.S. Navy, has a criminal record, including two DWIs.
"The driver, 26-year-old Richard Rojas from the Bronx, has a criminal record and two prior DWIs," said NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill Thursday. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio underscored that this "is not an act of terror."
Despite initial suspicions that alcohol may have been involved, later reports indicate that Rojas may have been trying to commit "suicide-by-cop." The New York Post reports:
"You were supposed to shoot me! I wanted to kill them," Richard Rojas, 26, told police after his bloody rampage, according to sources. ...
Rojas was taken to the Midtown South Precinct station house, where he told police he had hoped to commit suicide-by-cop, sources said. He wasn’t drunk, but police suspect that he may have been using drugs, for which he was undergoing testing Thursday afternoon, sources said.
One eyewitness told The Post that Rojas appeared to be deliberately trying to run over pedestrians. "He was driving like a madman and screaming," Michael Rickerby, 24, told The Post. "It looked like he was trying to hit people. He had the angriest, craziest face, and he was literally going after people."
CBS New York provides some accounts of the tragic incident, including one person's account of wrangling Rojas when he allegedly tried to flee the scene:
“As he approaches 42nd Street, he makes a quick u-turn, proceeds on west side sidewalk for 3 and half blocks where he hits a stanchion,” said NYPD Chief Of Manhattan Detectives William Aubry.
“The driver tried to run from the scene and the bouncer from Planet Hollywood hit him, so we jumped on top of him and ripped his shirt, wanted to make sure he had no gun or knife on him,” a tour bus ticket agent told CBS2’s Janelle Burrell. “I see the car coming in fast, no brake, no nothing. Bang! Before I realized it there’s fire on the car… my co-worker jumped from the scene. I don’t smell alcohol because he turned around and we saw his face. He said to make him loose. … Anything happens here there’s no time for people to react.”
Below are photos of the aftermath taken by one passerby:
This article has been updated to include more details as they have emerged.