Officials: One Dead, 22 Injured in Times Square Crash
One person is dead and at least 22 others injured after a car was driven the wrong way through Times Square early Thursday afternoon.
The New York City Police Department says the driver of the red Honda, 26-year-old Richard Rojas of the Bronx, is in custody.
Police say it all began around 11:55 a.m. when the car started moving at a high rate of speed and mounted the sidewalk along Seventh Avenue from 42nd to 45th Street, striking pedestrians along the heavily congested stretch.
The car finally came to rest after slamming into a barrier on West 45th Street.
Police say the crash is believed to be an isolated incident and does not appear to be terrorism.
An 18-year-old woman, Alyssa Elsman from Portage, Michigan, died because of the crash, the city police department said.
Police said Elsman's 13-year-old sister is one of the other people injured in the crash.
"Alyssa was a really thoughtful, really bright, very pleasant young lady. Every interaction I had with her was positive," said Eric Alburtus, the principal at Alyssa Elsman's high school. "To be honest with you, I'm kind of struggling with the whole loss."
Elsman has been visiting the city with her family.
"They're at the standby to make sure that at a moment's notice, if we have a lot of kids who are working through it, they'll be here, and some of them will be here first thing in the morning," Alburtus said about Portage residents.
Bellevue Hospital officials said they admitted 13 of the injured, from ages 13 to 72, four of whom are in critical condition.
The hospital said another two patients are in serious condition with injuries that include pelvic fractures, internal bleeding, and head injuries, while the other seven are in stable condition.
Mount Sinai West officials said they received six people injured in the crash, five of which were treated and released by 10:35 pm. Thursday. The other was transferred to Mount Sinai St. Luke's.
Witnesses who were in Times Square over the noon hour described mass chaos as people were knocked down and lay injured in the street.
Thomas Henry was stuck under the car but managed to survive. "They put me on a chair and tried to revive me, and when I came to myself, I asked them, 'What happened?'" Henry recalled.
It was a terrifying ordeal also for Henry's niece, who was with him on the sidewalk when he was hit, and leapt into action to help.
"I just ran and pushed each other out of the way because I didn't want him to get hurt," she said. "and then when I turned around, I saw he was under the car, I was traumatized."
Police say Rojas has two prior arrests for driving while intoxicated.
Sources told NY1 that preliminary field tests and statements Rojas made show that he was not intoxicated from alcohol, but instead from something he "smoked."
Sources also told NY1 that Rojas spoke about hearing voices Thursday, and during a previous arrest.
Rojas told two law enforcement officials that expected to die, according to the Associated Press.
"We all feel deeply right now for those who were injured and for their families," Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters at the scene.
What's 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
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
Out of precaution, police say additional officers are being deployed to various sites across the city.
Police say Rojas was arrested last week after he pointed a knife at a notary and accused the notary of stealing his identity, according to the AP.
One official said Rojas told authorities when arrested previously that he believed he was being followed.
Those who know Rojas said they are shocked to hear about what happened.
Investigators are searching the Mount Eden home he shares with his mother.
Naval records show that Rojas enlisted in 2011 and worked as an electrician stationed in Jacksonville, Florida.
But he spent 2 months in a naval prison and was discharged in 2014.
A friend of Rojas's says he currently works in real estate. He told NY1 that Rojas is good person, but came back from the military a different person and used alcohol to self-medicate.
"He was into sports, video games," the friend said. "He was into a lot of military stuff, that's why he joined, that's why he served his country because he loves his country. And he just didn't come back the same."
He started drinking, drinking, drinking thinking that's going to help his problems," Rojas's friend continued. "We all know, all of us, we try to drink our problems away, but it's not going to go away."
Rojas remains in police custody. There is no word yet on what charges he faces.