The man who drove a car for three blocks on the sidewalk in Times Square has been identified as Richard Rojas, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a news conference on Thursday.
Witnesses said the motorist was driving against traffic before his burgundy Honda sedan mounted the sidewalk and struck pedestrians. The car hit a pole and came to rest at 45th Street and Broadway before police took the driver away.
An 18-year-old tourist from Michigan, Alyssa Elseman, died during the incident and 22 others were hospitalized, including Elseman’s 13-year-old sister.
Here is what you need to know about the driver, Richard Rojas:
1. Rojas is a military veteran.
“The perpetrator is in custody, he’s a United States citizen and former member of the armed forces with the United States Navy,” de Blasio said.
2. Rojas has a criminal history.
Officials said Rojas has two prior arrests for DWI – 2008 in Queens and 2015 in Manhattan – and was last arrested in May for menacing.
U.S. Navy records show Rojas enlisted in September 2011 and was based in Illinois and Florida, working as an electrician’s mate fireman apprentice.
He was arrested a year later at a naval base in Jacksonville, Florida, where officials said he attacked a cab driver, shouted “my life is over,” and threatened to kill police, according to court records. Rojas was charged with misdemeanor battery and resisting an officer without violence, but it was unclear how the case was resolved.
U.S. Navy records show he spent two months in a military prison in Charleston, South Carolina, in the summer of 2013, but did not say why. He left the Navy in May 2014.
Video of suspect in Times Square incident being arrested. pic.twitter.com/obgHGGs7Td
— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) May 18, 2017
3. His blood alcohol was negative.
A official told The New York Times after the arrest that Rojas appeared to be either drunk or under the influence of drugs, but his blood test came back negative for alcohol, the Associated Press reported. He is now believed to have been under the influence of K2, a synthetic marijuana. Rojas allegedly punched a police officer in the face during his arrest, ABC reported.
Rojas possibly has a history of psychiatric problems and claims to have heard voices in his head before mowing down 23 people in Times Square, NBC reported.
4. Rojas is not believed to be a terrorist.
Officials stressed there is no indication of terrorism, but did not disclose what Rojas said to them when he was apprehended.
The New York Fire Department referred to the incident on Twitter as a “motor vehicle accident in Times Square.” Authorities said this is most likely a drunk driving incident.
Annie Donahey, 24, told the Times: “[The Honda] was going at a fast rate of speed and to me it looked like it was trying to hit as many people as possible. People were trying to jump out of the way.”
— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 18, 2017
Initial reports of the incident revived memories of July last year when a man driving a truck killed at least 84 people, 10 of them children, and injured 202 in the French city of Nice. Islamic State claimed responsibility.
On March 22, five people were killed in London and about 40 injured after a car hit pedestrians and a suspected Islamist-inspired attacker stabbed a policeman near Britain’s parliament.
5. Rojas lives in the Bronx.
Officials said Rojas is an American citizen who lives in the Bronx, a borough of New York City.
Richard Rojas, the guy that drove his car into pedestrians in Times Square. What kinda drugs is this guy on? pic.twitter.com/4qXrbVPGVH
— Uncle Chang (@UncleChangNYC) May 18, 2017
Reuters contributed to this report.