NEW YORK — A man with a history of drunken driving has been charged with murder after police say he barreled a car through the crowded sidewalks in Manhattan’s Time Square, leaving one person dead and 22 injured.
The deadly rampage on Thursday started after the driver allegedly made a U-turn, then steered the car into the packed sidewalk where it rammed dozens of pedestrians for a three block stretch.
One surveillance video showed the maroon car jump the curb and slam into a group of people, sending bodies tumbling over the hood of the speeding Honda Accord.
Alyssa Elsman, an 18-year-old resident of Portage, Mich., who was visiting the city, was killed.
The suspect, Richard Rojas, of the Bronx, tested positive for PCP and told police that God made him do it, a law enforcement official said.
Rojas, 26, who suffered from “psychological issues,” told police he expected officers to shoot him, according to the source.
In addition to the murder charge, Rojas also faces 20 counts of attempted murder and five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, according to a statement from the New York City Police Department.
The five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide are for the death of Elsman and four victims who are in critical condition.
They are expected to survive, officials said.
NYC Health + Hospitals Bellevue said it was treating four patients in critical condition and two in serious condition Thursday night.
The injured included Elsman’s 13-year-old sister, Ava, according to Michelle Karpinski of Portage Public Schools.
Elsman was a 2016 graduate of Portage Central High School.
“Alyssa was the type of person who seemed very shy and reserved when you first met her, but once you started talking to her you realized she was smart, funny and engaging,” principal Eric Alburtus said in a statement. “She will be deeply missed by the staff and students here.”
Rojas has been arrested twice in New York — in 2015 and 2008 — for drunken driving, New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill said.
In 2013, Rojas — while in the Navy — pleaded guilty to drunken driving, failure to pay a just debt, drunk and disorderly conduct and communicating a threat. A military judge sentenced him to three months confinement.
There is no indication that the incident in Times Square, which unfolded just before noon, was an act of terrorism, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and other officials said. It is being investigated as an accident, a police official said.
The mayor told WNYC Radio on Friday that Rojas had “demonstrated mental health issues going back to childhood” that “went unaddressed even during the time he was in the U.S. military.”
“It appears to be intentional in the sense that he was troubled and lashing out,” de Blasio said of the incident. “At the root of this is an untreated mental health issue going back probably decades.”
Before striking pedestrians, the 2009 Honda Accord was “out of control,” an emergency management official said.
The speeding car jumped the sidewalk on the west side of Seventh Avenue at 42nd Street and struck several pedestrians before crashing at the northwest corner of 45th Street, police said.