NEW YORK: Police said on Thursday that a 26-year-old US Navy veteran with two prior arrests for driving while intoxicated had been taken in custody after his car ploughed into 23 pedestrians in Times Square, killing one of them.
Witnesses said Richard Rojas appeared to be intoxicated, and he was taken into custody. Witnesses reported that he drove the wrong way and on a sidewalk for at least three blocks, mowing down pedestrians.
Rojas was in custody and unable to comment. Police Commissioner James O’Neill says the crash doesn’t appear to be related to terrorism.
Police said the Bronx man was being tested for alcohol and drugs.
The incident sparked instant jitters after recent deadly car-ramming attacks in London, Berlin and the French city of Nice, but officials said early evidence did not point to a terror link.
“It is believed to be an isolated incident, it remains under investigation,” New York police said on Twitter.
Firefighters said the accident took place at 45th Street and Broadway in Times Square at the start of the lunch hour. A police source said that the 26-year-old man driving the vehicle was in custody.
The Fire Department confirmed one person had died and 19 people were hurt in the incident.
The maroon sedan vehicle, travelling at high speed, crashed into the group of people and ended up flipping onto its side on the sidewalk, before ambulances and police descended on the area, a photographer said.
The vehicle was on fire as pedestrians lay on the ground and passers-by cried, the photographer said. He saw one person covered up with a white cloth.
Police directed traffic as passers-by looked on anxiously.
“Preliminarily it looks more like a vehicle accident than anything else,” a New York police spokesman said.
Famous across the world for its bright lights and advertising billboards, Times Square is typically packed with tourists and office workers. It lies in the heart of Midtown Manhattan and leads to Broadway, New York’s famed theatre district.
Times Square was the scene of the most serious security alert in America’s most populous city since the September 11, 2001 attacks when Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani immigrant, planted a car bomb at the intersection on May 1, 2010.
His explosive device failed to detonate and he was arrested shortly after boarding a flight to the Middle East. He pleaded guilty and said he was aiming to avenge deaths from US missiles fired from drones operating over Pakistan.
He was sentenced to life behind bars.
Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2017