NEW YORK • Suddenly, a car was ploughing through the sidewalk crowds in New York's Times Square.
By the time it rammed into a bollard, an 18-year-old woman was dead, 22 other people were injured and the heart of Manhattan had been turned into a scene of panic and carnage.
The driver of the Honda Accord, Richard Rojas, 26, a Navy veteran from the Bronx, was charged early yesterday with one count of second-degree murder, and multiple counts of attempted murder.
He had a history of arrests for drunken driving, said officials, and appeared to have been driving under the influence of drugs when he went on his rampage.
Under questioning by investigators, he rambled and talked about various things, making some statements suggesting that he might have wanted to provoke the police into killing him, the officials said.
"You were supposed to shoot me! I wanted to kill them," he said, according to unnamed police sources quoted by the New York Post.
ABC News cited unidentified police sources as saying Rojas had apparently been high on synthetic marijuana. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital rather than to the city's police central booking facility.
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ALL HELL BREAKING LOOSE
They were screaming, yelling, running. It was running over everybody that was in front of the car.
MR SHARIEF WHITE, a vendor who was selling T-shirts and hats at Seventh Avenue and 44th Street.
"He started trying to run away," said Ms Asa Lowe, 42. "Traffic cops grabbed him. Regular citizens grabbed him. We became the city we need to be today."
Rojas had driven at speed on the sidewalk for more than three city blocks, knocking people over before the car struck a pole and came to rest at 45th Street and Broadway, in front of the Marriott Marquis Hotel.
"They were screaming, yelling, running. It was running over everybody that was in front of the car," said Mr Sharief White, a vendor who was selling T-shirts and hats at Seventh Avenue and 44th Street.
Security camera footage showed the car slam into pedestrians who moments earlier had been ambling along, some carrying shopping bags and others pushing baby strollers.
"People were being hit and rolling off the car," said Mr Josh Duboff, who leapt out of the way to avoid being struck.
The dead woman was named by police as Ms Alyssa Elsman, 18, who was on vacation with her family from Michigan, She was standing near her 13-year-old sister who was injured when the car struck them.
Four people were critically injured, suffering multiple fractures and traumas, New York fire commissioner Daniel Nigro said.
Unfolding in one of the city's most crowded and high-profile areas, the episode instantly raised the spectre of terrorism.
Initial reports brought to mind vehicle attacks on pedestrians in recent months in Britain, France, Germany, Israel, Australia and Sweden.
An attempted car-bomb attack in Times Square in 2010 also remains a potent memory for many New Yorkers.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said at the scene that there was no apparent terrorism connection, but the city is not taking any chances.
"That being said, we are reinforcing key locations around the city with our anti-terror units of the NYPD so out of an abundance of caution, major sites in the city will get additional police coverage".
NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
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Video captures moment of car crash. Visit str.sg/4uoE