Vehicle smashed into people at high speed

Police have cordoned off the scene of the incident, where a vehicle ploughed into crowds yesterday, at the corner of Flinders and Elizabeth streets in Melbourne's Central Business District.
Police have cordoned off the scene of the incident, where a vehicle ploughed into crowds yesterday, at the corner of Flinders and Elizabeth streets in Melbourne's Central Business District.PHOTO: REUTERS
Police have cordoned off the scene of the incident, where a vehicle ploughed into crowds yesterday, at the corner of Flinders and Elizabeth streets in Melbourne's Central Business District.
An ambulance leaving the scene of the accident yesterday. The attack, in which 19 people were injured, has left many residents of Australia's second-biggest city in shock. PHOTO: NYTIMES

Four of the 19 people hurt in critical condition; it happened just as people were commuting home

MELBOURNE • Crowds of people were heading home or doing their holiday shopping when the driver of a white Suzuki sport utility vehicle rammed through pedestrians at a busy intersection in central Melbourne just after 5pm local time (2pm Singapore time).

The attack took place on Flinders Street, a major road that runs alongside the Yarra River, in the central business district of Australia's second-biggest city.

Four of the 19 victims admitted to hospitals were in critical condition, the authorities said.

Eyewitness Federica Viezzoli, 40, described the vehicle "smashing into people" after it turned into Flinders Street, just as the evening commute home was beginning.

"They basically were just bumped into the air, a couple of them," she said of the victims. "I heard the noise of bones crushing. It was kind of terrible. And the car ended up near the tram tracks."

Another witness, identified only as John, told ABC Radio Melbourne that he saw an "SUV coming at high speed". "I really just heard the collision with people with bags and what must be shopping trolleys - and I hope not prams," he said. "I've really never seen anything like this before and I haven't stopped shaking."

  • Other recent vehicular attacks

  • OCT 31: NEW YORK CITY

    Uzbekistan national Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, 29, drove a pick-up truck into people on a busy bike path in New York City's Hudson River Park. Eight people were killed and almost a dozen injured in what was described as the first deadly "act of terror" in the city since the 9/11 attacks.

    AUG 17, 18: BARCELONA

    At least 13 people were killed and about 100 injured on Aug 17 after a van ploughed through a crowd in the tourist district. Two suspects were arrested but the driver escaped. On Aug 18, in Cambrils, about 100km from Barcelona, five attackers drove a car into pedestrians, killing one. The attackers were later killed by police.

    JUNE 3: LONDON

    A van swerved into pedestrians on London Bridge, after which the suspects jumped out and headed to nearby popular Borough Market, where witnesses said they brandished knives and slashed at people. Eight people were killed and at least 48 hurt before police shot the three suspects dead.

    APRIL 7: STOCKHOLM

    Uzbekistan national Rakhmat Akilov, 39, drove a truck into pedestrians on a busy street in Stockholm, before crashing into a department store. The attack killed at least four people.

    MARCH 22: LONDON

    British national Khalid Masood, 52, drove a vehicle into a crowd on the sidewalk along the Westminster Bridge in London and killed at least four people.

    After ramming the car into a barrier outside Parliament, he stabbed a police officer to death.

    He was later gunned down by the police.

    SOURCES: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, CNN

A Reuters witness said the vehicle came to a stop near where commuters enter and exit the usually crowded Flinders Street railway station. "It's delayed traffic, trains, trams, everyone's getting diverted," the witness said after sections of the city's public transport system were put on lockdown.

At least four police cars, two paramedic vehicles, one ambulance and a fire truck were seen at the site of the crash after the incident.

Video taken yesterday by a bystander, Mr Lachlan Vella, showed police officers in tactical gear using plastic ties to restrain the suspect.

In the video, the front half of the SUV was severely damaged, and both airbags were seen to have been deployed. A slick of liquid appeared to be leaking from the car. Another person, possibly a female victim, was briefly seen lying in the street being attended to by officers.

Yesterday's incident happened just blocks from where a driver in January ran down a group of people with his car in a busy pedestrian mall, killing four and injuring at least 20 others before he was shot and taken into custody. The police said he was fleeing the police after stabbing his brother. After that incident, the police installed bollards to protect pedestrians.

"Everyone in Melbourne would have crossed that intersection at one time or another," said Mr Adam Bandt, a Member of Parliament from Melbourne. "People are in shock and probably will be for some time."

Commander Russell Barrett of the Victoria Police said access to the site of the attack would be restricted for a "considerable period of time", and he and other officials urged people to avoid the area.

TERRIBLE SIGHT

They basically were just bumped into the air, a couple of them...I heard the noise of bones crushing. It was kind of terrible. And the car ended up near the tram tracks.

EYEWITNESS FEDERICA VIEZZOLI, describing how the vehicle smashed into people after turning into Flinders Street.


DRIVER WENT ON AND ON

All you could hear was bang, bang, bang, bang. The only thing that slowed him down was hitting pedestrians.

MR JIM STOUPAS, who owns a nearby doughnut shop, describing how the car did not appear to brake as it ploughed into pedestrians.


SHOPPERS HIT

I really just heard the collision with people with bags and what must be shopping trolleys - and I hope not prams."

AN EYEWITNESS JOHN, speaking to ABC Radio Melbourne.


LEADER'S WORDS

Our thoughts & prayers are with the victims & the emergency & health workers who are treating them.

AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER MALCOLM TURNBULL, responding to the incident on his official Twitter account.

Australian police have not pointed to any motive for the attack. But they said that the 32-year-old driver was an Australian of Afghan descent who was known to the authorities for traffic and "minor assault" offences and had mental health issues. A second man, who was also arrested at the scene, remained in custody for questioning but he was not believed to be connected to the attack.

Police have also appealed to members of the public to upload any images they might have of the incident to assist with their investigation.

NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2017, with the headline 'Vehicle smashed into people at high speed'. Print Edition | Subscribe