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Times Square Driver Charged With Murder, May Have Been Attempting ‘Suicide by Cop’

Daily Intelligencer logo Daily Intelligencer 5/19/2017 Jen Kirby
Police secure an are near a car after it plunged into pedestrians in Times Square in New York on May 18, 2017. © Jewel Samad Police secure an are near a car after it plunged into pedestrians in Times Square in New York on May 18, 2017.

Shortly before noon on Thursday, 26-year-old Richard Rojas veered his car on Seventh Avenue, making a sharp U-turn and mounting the sidewalk at 42nd Street. Alyssa Elsman, an 18-year-old tourist from Michigan, was walking down the block with her sister. They had no time to get out of the way of the speeding car; Elsman was hit, and died instantly. Her 13-year-old sister suffered serious injuries. Rojas, according to reports, made no attempt to brake.

Rojas mowed down pedestrians as he sped down 43rd Street and 44th Street until finally drilling his car head-on into a metal stanchion at 45th and Broadway. He emerged from the smoking sedan, tilted on its side, in a Times Square packed with panicked people. Rojas reportedly tried to make a run for it; a Planet Hollywood bouncer tackled him to the ground. On-duty police officers rushed over to subdue him, and took him into custody. A total of 22 people were injured in his rampage, including four critically.

Rojas, a Navy vet from the Bronx, has now been charged with one count of murder, 20 counts of attempted murder, and five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide. Officials do not believe Rojas was motivated by extremist ideology or terrorism — but the incident does not appear to be an accident. “It appears to be intentional in the sense that he was troubled and lashing out,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on WNYC Friday morning, adding that Rojas appears to have unresolved mental-health issues.

Rojas reportedly gave a rambling, and sometime contradictory, testimony to police. Sources say he told police that Thursday was “the last day on earth,” and also made statements that indicated he had been attempting “suicide by cop.” Sources told the New York Post that Rojas said to police, “You were supposed to shoot me! I wanted to kill them.” He also reportedly said that was hearing voices and having hallucinations, according to the New York Times.

Rojas, who has a criminal record, including two DWI arrests, was tested for drugs and alcohol. He was not drunk, but did test positive for marijuana. De Blasio confirmed that Rojas was on some drug; police suspect he had other substances in his system, possibly K2 or PCP, but his test results are still pending.

Friends and family told reporters that Rojas became increasingly disturbed and paranoid after his time in the Navy, from 2011 to 2014. He was reportedly dishonorably discharged, and returned to the Bronx where in had increasing run-ins with the law. He was most recently arrested for menacing earlier this month, after he allegedly threatened a notary with a knife and accused him of trying to steal his identity.



Daily Intelligencer
Daily Intelligencer
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