NEW YORK — A driver with a history of drunken driving arrests plowed through crowds of pedestrians on packed sidewalks along three Times Square blocks Thursday (May 18), killing one person and injuring 22 others, officials said, touching off mayhem in one of the world's most famous and busiest plazas.
The driver, Richard Rojas, 26, was taken into custody after a traffic agent tackled him as he fled from his car, a maroon Honda that came to a stop after ramming into stanchions at the corner of 45th Street and Broadway.
An injured woman is seen on the sidewalk in Times Square after a speeding vehicle struck pedestrians on the sidewalk inn New York City, U.S., May 18, 2017. Photo: Reuters
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The panic provoked by a car speeding on sidewalks in the heart of Manhattan immediately evoked the spectre of terrorism, but law enforcement officials said they had determined that did not seem to have a role in the episode.
"Based on information we have at this moment, there is no indication that this was an act of terrorism," Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters at a news conference in Times Square. "We all feel deeply right now for those who were injured and for their families."
A few blocks away from where the mayor spoke, the Honda sat tilted on bollards, its right wheels in the air and its front hood crumpled, as detectives and investigators canvassed the area.
Officials said that the deadly rampage had begun around noon near 42nd Street, when Rojas, traveling south on Seventh Avenue, inexplicably made a quick U-turn, mounted a curb on the west side of the one-way avenue and began to drive north against traffic.
Witnesses described their horror at seeing a car race through the area, which was thronged with tourists, workers and other passers-by on a sultry afternoon.
Ms Annie Donahey, 24, had just left work on Seventh Avenue between 42nd and 43rd streets when the car sped past her and slammed into pedestrians on the sidewalk.
"It was going at a fast rate of speed and to me it looked like it was trying to hit as many people as possible," she said. "People were trying to jump out of the way."
WATCH THIS - BREAKING VIDEO: NYPD taking driver from Times Square incident into custody pic.twitter.com/lP0yyfMUZt
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An 18-year-old woman who was walking with her 13-year-old sister on a sidewalk between 42nd and 43rd streets was killed, officials said. Police did not provide the dead woman's name; her sister was also injured, they said.
Four other people were critically injured after sustaining multiple fractures and traumas, Mr Daniel P Nigro, the fire commissioner, said. They were taken to two different hospitals. Three other people were also taken to hospitals in serious condition. The other victims had less serious injuries.
Rojas, who lives in the Bronx, had not been formally charged by Thursday afternoon. He was scheduled to undergo testing for the presence of drugs or alcohol in his system, officials said.
Rojas, a Navy veteran, was arrested for drunken driving twice, in Queens in 2008, and in Manhattan in 2015, officials said. He was also recently arrested for menacing, officials said.
Ms Sharif White, who sells T-shirts and hats at the corner of 44th Street and Seventh Avenue, stood next to a woman who was lying on her back on a sidewalk and surrounded by paramedics.
"It hit her," Ms White said of the car, pointing to the woman, who was moaning in pain. "And it hit a couple of other people. Then the next thing I know it went straight down to 45th. It just was doing like about 100 mph and then the car crashed."
The car's bumper sat nearby in the middle of the sidewalk. Mr Magdy Tawfik, a hot dog vendor whose stand was near the corner, said the car had hit three people there.
"The car sped through here, it was moving so fast, and it crushed all these people," he said.
A victim in a neck brace was taken away in a wheelchair. NEW YORK TIMES