The driver who rammed into a crowded Times Square on Thursday, killing a woman and injuring 22 others, has been charged with 2o counts of attempted murder and five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, according to the New York Police Department.
Richard Rojas, the 26-year-old suspect, was taken into custody after he allegedly mounted the sidewalk on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, plowing through pedestrians at high speeds, creating a chaotic and terrifying scene amid the afternoon lunch rush at one of the busiest intersections in the world.
Alyssa Elsman, an 18-year-old tourist from Portage, Mich., was the sole person killed in the crash, according to the police. She had been visiting Times Square with her sister, who was injured during the episode.
Preliminary tests show Rojas, a U.S. citizen and resident of the Bronx, was under the influence of the mood-altering drug PCP, law enforcement sources told the New York Times and CNN. Rojas was previously arrested for drunken driving in 2015 and 2008, police said. Rojas remained in custody Thursday night.
Rojas is a Navy veteran who was discharged in 2014 as a result of a special court-martial, the Associated Press reported. He enlisted in 2011, served as an electrician’s mate fireman apprentice, and was most recently based at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Fla. The circumstances surrounding the court-martial were not immediately available.
Witnesses at the crash said the wounded were “laying on the sidewalks” and others were “screaming and running,” as The Washington Post reported. Those in the area were told to shelter in place while emergency crews swarmed the scene.
Immediately after the crash, Rojas reportedly tried to flee on foot. A bouncer at Planet Hollywood tackled him to the ground, the Associated Press reported. The bouncer, Ken Bradix, has worked at Planet Hollywood for 17 years and was walking toward the restaurant when he saw the car careening down the sidewalk and the driver subsequently running away from the scene.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and other officials said there is no indication the crash was related to terrorism.
“It’s a tough day for New York City, but as usual the people of New York City will stand firm, will be resilient,” de Blasio said in a news conference.
Relatives, friends and community members in Portage, Mich., mourned the loss of Elsman, the 18-year-old killed in the crash.
“We’re all kind of a mess,” Eric Alburtus, principal of Portage Central High School, from which Elsman graduated last year, told the Detroit Free Press.
Elsman was a kind, compassionate student known around the school for selling muffins she baked in a cooking class, Alburtus said.
“Alyssa was a wonderful young lady,” he said. “When you first got to know her, you would perceive that she was shy or quiet. The more you got to know her, the more you would realize she was funny, and thoughtful, and compassionate to other people.”
According to her Facebook page, Elsman was working as a carhop at a Sonic Drive-In. She also had a boyfriend.
“She was sweet and really laid back,” Stacey Vogl, the mother of Elsman’s boyfriend, Trevor West, told the New York Daily News. “She was the one person that brought my son joy.”
Relatives told the New York Daily News she was studying at a community college near her home outside of Kalamazoo. She was visiting New York City with her mother and sister and they were scheduled to return to Michigan later Thursday.
Before the crash, her 13-year-old sister posted a video on Instagram showing a view of bustling Times Square.
“The Elsmans are a very close-knit family and that will be huge in a situation like this,” Elsman’s aunt Shelly Dusek told CBS New York.
After she heard the news, Dusek posted a message on Facebook.
“My niece,” Dusek said. “I’m heartbroken.”
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