Driver kills 1, hurts 22 in Times Square


A Honda Accord driven by a Bronx resident, Richard Rojas, plowed through a crowded Times Square sidewalk, killing one person and injuring 22, police said. Photo: Francisco Díaz De Azevedo
Noontime incident does not appear to be terrorism, police say
BY MICHAEL GAROFALO

A vehicle driven by a Bronx man plowed through pedestrians on a crowded Times Square sidewalk shortly before noon today, killing one person and injuring 22 others. The incident does not appear to be an act of terrorism, police said.

At about 11:54 a.m., a maroon Honda Accord sedan jumped the curb and onto the sidewalk on the west side of Seventh Avenue near 42nd Street and drove northbound at high speed for about three blocks, slamming into pedestrians along the way. The vehicle came to a stop when it hit a stanchion on the northwest corner of West 45th Street, NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill said at a press conference shortly after the incident.

An 18-year-old female died at the scene after she was hit by the vehicle, police said. Twenty-two others were taken to local hospitals with injuries. Four are in critical condition but are expected to survive.

The driver, Richard Rojas, is in NYPD custody. Rojas has two prior arrests for driving while intoxicated, police said.

“We quickly determined that at this time it doesn't appear to be terrorist-related,” O'Neill said.


Video: Richard Khavkine

Before police ruled out terror as a motive, many on the scene assumed the incident was similar to in nature to recent jihadist attacks involving vehicles in France, Germany, Israel and elsewhere. Upon hearing of the incident, O'Neill said, “The worst went through my mind.”

One witness who said he was struck by the vehicle seemed certain the incident was a terrorist attack. “From what I've heard going on around the world the last few years, my educated guess is this was probably terrorism,” the man said before police made their announcement. “There's no two bones about it. This isn't drunk driving.”

The witness, a man named Andrew in his late 20s who declined to share his last name, said he was walking on the west side of Seventh Ave. between 43rd and 44th Streets when he heard a commotion behind him. Almost immediately, the car was upon him. He scrambled to move out of the vehicle's path but was struck glancingly, leaving him with a scraped elbow and a shattered mobile phone screen. “The screaming saved my life,” Andrew, who is from Long Island, said. Many pedestrians around him were left with severe injuries. “Just carnage,” he said, adding that police arrived on the scene almost immediately.

Francisco Díaz De Azevedo, an Argentine tourist, was visiting Times Square when he heard people screaming nearby and saw the car driving on the sidewalk. The vehicle was going “really fast,” Díaz De Azevedo said, and didn't slow down as it collided with pedestrians. “It was like bowling,” he said.

Police shut down vehicle and pedestrian traffic around the scene of the incident, where dozens of police and fire department vehicles were stationed. West of Seventh Avenue, several empty MTA buses sat idle on 42nd St., their hazard lights flashing.

About 90 minutes after the incident, commerce along the street continued, with customers lining up at a nearby McDonald's, bus tour vendors hawking trips, and tourists going about their vacations, taking pictures and videos of one another with the Crossroads of the World in the background.