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Accused Times Square Crash Driver Charged With Murder

The Wall Street Journal. logoThe Wall Street Journal. 19/05/2017 Kate King, Zolan Kanno-Youngs
© Rodrigo Campos/Reuters

The driver accused of plowing his car through a busy Times Square sidewalk told police he wanted to kill people and that he had smoked marijuana laced with PCP, New York officials said Friday.

Richard Rojas, a 26-year-old Bronx resident, was arraigned in Manhattan criminal court on Friday and charged with murder and 20 counts of attempted murder. His attorney, Enrico DeMarco, didn’t immediately return a call for comment. 

Criminal Court Judge Tamiko Amaker ordered Mr. Rojas to be held in police custody until his scheduled court appearance on May 24.

New York Police Assistant Chief William Aubry said camera footage shows Mr. Rojas was driving on 7th Avenue shortly before noon Thursday and slowed to allow traffic to pass before he made a quick U-turn at 42nd Street and drove onto the sidewalk. He continued to accelerate as he drove up to 45th Street, injuring 20 people and killing an 18-year-old woman, Alyssa Elsman, from Michigan.

“Parts of his car—the side view mirror, license plates—are falling off as he’s striking the pedestrians,” Chief Aubry said. “People are being dragged. They’re on top of the car.”

The rampage ended when Mr. Rojas struck a stanchion at 45th Street and was apprehended by a traffic agent and civilians after he exited his vehicle. Mr. Rojas allegedly told the traffic agent that he wanted to kill people, according to the criminal complaint.

One person was treated at the scene and 19 people were taken to area hospitals. Three of seven patients admitted for additional treatment remain in critical condition, including a 38-year-old Canadian woman whose condition is considered “very critical,” Chief Aubry said. Ms. Elsman’s 13-year-old sister was also injured and she is being treated for a collapsed lung and broken pelvis.

Mr. Rojas, who served in the U.S. Navy, exhibited glassy eyes and slurred speech after his arrest and told a police officer that he smoked marijuana laced with the hallucinogenic drug PCP, according to the criminal complaint. An initial search of his car didn’t turn up any drugs, Chief Aubry said.

Mr. Rojas is an American citizen, and police aren’t treating the incident as terrorism. Police have obtained a warrant to search the home where he lives with his mother, who is cooperating with the investigation. They are also looking into Mr. Rojas’s background and whether he has a history of mental illness, Chief Aubry said.

Mr. Rojas was arrested two times previously for drunken driving but tested negative Thursday for alcohol, officials said. He also was arrested May 11 following an incident that involved a “large knife” and pleaded guilty to a menacing charge, Chief Aubry said.

”We all feel deeply right now for those who were injured and for the families and particularly the family of the young woman who was lost,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Mr. Rojas also was charged with aggravated vehicular homicide, police said.

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