Times Square crash: one dead and 22 injured after car ploughs into pedestrians in New York

Police said there was no indication it was an act of terrorism

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The Independent US

A young woman was killed and at least 22 others were injured after a speeding car driven by a US Navy veteran ploughed into pedestrians on a pavement in Times Square.

Eye witnesses said the car made a U-turn in the middle of 7th Avenue in midtown Manhattan during heavy traffic. The maroon Honda saloon then continued for approximately three blocks against the flow of traffic, leaving bodies strewn in its wake.

People described pedestrians screaming and running from the vehicle, while others lay in the intersection, unable to move.

The car eventually crashed into a telephone pole and stopped on 45th Street and Broadway. The intersection marks the heart of one of New York City’s most popular tourist destinations. The crash follows recent deadly car-ramming attacks in London, Berlin and the French city of Nice.

An 18-year-old woman and her 13-year-old sister were struck midway through the driver’s rampage directly outside the offices of the media giant Thompson Reuters. The 18-year-old tourist from Michigan, named as Alyssa Elsman, was killed. At least 22 other people were injured.

"People were being hit and rolling off the car," said Josh Duboff, who works at Thomson Reuters. He said he leapt out of the way to avoid being struck.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called the crash “a very serious incident”, but emphasised that there is no indication that it was a terrorist act.

“Even when incidents occur, it should not shake people’s fundamental knowledge that they are safe in Times Square," he said.

Police suspect the driver, Richard Rojas, was driving while intoxicated. Witnesses say they saw him emerge from the vehicle panicked and shirtless.

The 26-year-old US citizen has been arrested twice for drink driving in 2008 and 2015. A week ago, Mr Rojas was arrested and charged with pointing a knife at a notary, whom he accused of stealing his identity. He pleaded guilty to a harassment violation.

Officials say a police officer and two passerby tackled the driver when he attempted to flee the scene. Mr Rojas is now in police custody and being transported for drug and alcohol testing. 

The Independent spoke with one man, identified by the first name Landry, who claimed he helped detain Mr Rojas.

“He came outside the car and ran toward 45th [street],” Landry said. “He was screaming … We got him to the floor like five minutes before the police came.”

 

Another Times Square visitor said she was shopping when she saw a woman lying in the middle of the street.

"We didn't know where she came from," the woman told The Independent. "All of a sudden we turn our heads and we see through the door of the store a woman lying down, naked, with scratches all over her body."

"We thought she was totally unconscious," she added, "but then the police came; the paramedics – everybody."

Emergency response teams blocked off the area, and surrounding buildings were placed on lockdown.

Reports of the crash stoked fears of a possible terrorist attack. Several witnesses told news outlets they initially believed the crash was intentional. One witness told Gothamist she saw the driver speed up as he ploughed through pedestrians.

The day before, Isis had released a video calling for attacks on Americans.

The vehicle was checked by a bomb squad, and other popular landmarks were provided additional security as a precautionary measure.

The White House said President Donald Trump was informed of the incident and would continue to be briefed as it unfolded.

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