NEW YORK (Reuters) – A speeding car crashed into pedestrians on a sidewalk in New York City’s busy Times Square on Thursday (May 18), killing an 18-year-old woman and injuring 22 others. Police said the incident did not appear to be an act of terrorism.
One woman was covered with a bloodstained blanket after the collision, which occurred around noon ET (midnight in Singapore on Thursday) at the Midtown Manhattan tourist venue.
Witnesses said the motorist had driven a red Honda sedan against traffic and onto the sidewalk, striking pedestrians. The car crashed into a pole and came to rest at 45th Street and Broadway before police took the driver away.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters there was no indication it was an act of terrorism and that the driver had two previous arrests for drunk driving. Police identified the motorist as Richard Rojas, 26, of New York.
Bill said Richard is a former member of the United States Navy with a criminal history.
Hundreds of thousands of people, many of them visitors from around the world, pass daily through the bustling commercial area, the heart of the Broadway theater district.
The bustling streets are heavily patrolled by police, some on horseback. Many, but not all, sidewalks are lined with barricades and planters for fear of vehicle attacks.
A bouncer from the Planet Hollywood restaurant and a ticket agent were among onlookers who helped police subdue the suspect when he tried to flee the scene, media reports said.
Broadway shows would go ahead as planned on Thursday evening in the many local theaters, organizers said in a statement.
US 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.
US 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.
After Thursday’s incident, authorities cordoned off an area from 41st to 47th streets and from 6th to 8th avenues for several hours, effectively shutting down one of the busiest parts of one of the busiest cities in the world.
Witnesses described the horror of seeing the car travelling at high speeds through the neighbourhood.
“People were being hit and rolling off the car,” said Josh Duboff, an employee at the adjacent Thomson Reuters headquarters who jumped out of the way to avoid being struck.
Television footage showed police officers restraining a man in a dark T-shirt and placing him in a police car.
“One male in custody in the #TimesSquare vehicle collision,”the NYPD said on Twitter. “It is believed to be an isolated incident, it remains under investigation.”
Police cordoned off an area from 41st to 47th streets and from 6th to 8th avenues, effectively shutting down one of the busiest parts of one of the busiest cities in the world. The crash occurred near the headquarters of the Reuters news agency, 3 Times Square.
Building foreman Rodney Muir said he heard what sounded like a big bang and crunching metal. He said he looked out and saw what appeared to be a body lying on the street in front of the building.
Ms Annie Donahey, 24, had just left work on Seventh Avenue between 42nd and 43rd streets when the car, a maroon Honda, sped past her and slammed into pedestrians on the sidewalk. She told New York Times: “It was going at a fast speed and it looked to me as if it was trying to hit as many people as possible,” she said.
“People were trying to jump out of the way.”
Ms Cheryl Howard and her daughter were out shopping when the car sped down the sidewalk. “I’m so freaked out!” the daughter said. “They mowed everyone down.”
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.