Times Square victim was visiting city


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Driver said to have “demonstrated mental health issues” and been under the influence of drugs


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  • Richard Rojas, the driver of a Honda Accord that plowed through a crowded Times Square sidewalk, killing one person and injuring 22, has been charged with one count of second-degree murder, 20 counts of second-degree attempted murder, and five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide. Photo: Francisco Díaz De Azevedo



BY MICHAEL GAROFALO

The young woman killed by Richard Rojas, the driver of the car that jumped the Times Square sidewalk Thursday and then slammed into dozens of pedestrians, was identified as Alyssa Elsman, who was visiting from Michigan, authorities said.

Elsman, 18, from Portage, Mich., apparently had been in the city just a few hours, according to her Twitter feed. She was hit between 42nd and 43rd Streets and died at the scene, authorities said. She had been walking with her 13-year-old sister, who was also struck by Rojas’ maroon Honda Accord and was taken to a local hospital.

As of this afternoon, three of the victims remained in critical condition. One, a 38-year-old woman from Canada, is in “very critical” condition, William Aubry, NYPD chief of detectives for Manhattan South, said at a Friday press conference.

Police said Rojas, a Bronx resident with a history of drunken driving arrests, had been driving south on Seventh Avenue just before noon when he abruptly made a U-turn at 42nd, drove onto the sidewalk on the west side of Seventh Avenue where he drove northbound at high speed for about three blocks, slamming into pedestrians along the way.

The vehicle came to a stop when it hit a stanchion on the northwest corner of West 45th Street, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said at a press conference shortly after the incident.

Rojas was quickly taken into custody. He was later charged with one count of second-degree murder, 20 counts of second-degree attempted murder, and five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide. Aubry said police have received search warrants for Rojas’ vehicle and home, and will review the contents in an attempt to discern his motivation and state of mind. Police are awaiting official toxicology results.

Rojas was arrested twice previously for driving while intoxicated, in 2008 and 2015. In the week before the Times Square incident, Rojas pled guilty to a charge of menacing stemming from a May 11 arrest involving a “large knife,” Aubry said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking on WNYC this morning, said Rojas’ family told authorities the former Navy veteran “had demonstrated mental health issues going back to childhood.”

“So, it appears to be intentional in the sense that he was troubled and lashing out,” de Blasio said. “What we don’t — do not know yet fully — we know there was some kind of drugs in his system, we don’t know the full analysis and whether the type of drugs in his system exacerbated his feelings in a negative way.”

Aubry said safety measures in place in Times Square, such as the metal bollard that eventually brought Rojas’ vehicle to a halt, had likely prevented more people from being injured or killed, but that the NYPD would review the incident “to look for ways that we can defend something like this from happening in the future.”


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