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One Dead, Multiple Injured After Times Square Driver Plows Through Pedestrians

Multiple people were injured after a driver drove onto the sidewalk in Times Square today. The FDNY has confirmed that at least one person, an 18-year-old woman, was killed and 22 other people were injured in the incident, which happened around noon Thursday.

Police say that Richard Rojas, 26, was driving a maroon 2009 Honda Accord when he mounted the sidewalk on the west side of 42nd Street and drove up 7th Avenue "at a high rate of speed" while striking pedestrians, before crashing into a light pole on the northwest corner of 45th Street. Witness Asa Lowe, 42, thought the driver was going "past 100 MPH." When he got out of the car, Lowe says Rojas started running until "people tackled him."

Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed at a press conference that Rojas, a U.S. citizen and former member of the U.S. Navy, is in custody. The Bronx resident was arrested for two DWIs in 2008 and 2015. (The Queens DA says Rojas pleaded down his 2008 DUI to a violation. The case is sealed.) The Times reports that the driver "appeared to have been either drunk or on drugs."

His most recent arrest was earlier this month: the Post reports that Rojas, who is a notary, was arrested on May 11th for threatening someone who came to his house to get an annuity notarized. Their sources say, "Rojas accused the person of stealing his ID, then put a knife to his throat...He was charged with menacing and criminal possession of a weapon, but pleaded guilty to harassment."

De Blasio added that this appears to be an isolated incident: "Based on information we have at this moment, there is no indication that this was an act of terrorism."

Witness Julie Fallo, from Hoboken, was in Times Square with her daughter and niece when the incident happened. "It definitely looked intentional, he never slowed down," she told us. "He gunned it right into the people. It looked like he accelerated."

Fallo was standing on the corner of 42nd Street and 7th Avenue near the Red Lobster when "the car gunned it on an angle up onto the curb and just kept driving down the sidewalk, just hitting people all the way until he ran into a cement thing."

"Bodies were flying, he was running over people, it was like nothing I’d ever seen," she said. "Everyone thought it was a terrorist attack and ran into buildings screaming. People were trying to get off the street, as if he was going to jump off the car and start shooting."

"He went across going straight on the street and hit so many people that it slowed his car down and he just kept going," she added. "The people were slowing down his car but he was speeding up. We don’t understand. I don’t understand how that’s possible, I can’t imagine how you could keep going."

Kelly Graves, 54, said she was by the Disney store when the driver sped down the block: "We heard a big crash, saw people running and we turned around and went back to corner. We saw groups of people lying on the sidewalk on the next block over, also in front of the car we saw a Gray Line ticket person laying on the ground with police surrounding him."

Graves, who is visiting the city from Wisconsin, said police made them stand back when the car caught fire. "There were so many people around the injured people that you couldn't tell who was injured," she added. "People screamed, they were running away. Like I said it was total chaos after it happened. We saw smoke all of a sudden, the car started on fire, and it was all thick smoke."

Edward, 15, who was on his way to see Phantom Of The Opera on a field trip, told us he saw smoke as he was walking through Times Square. "We thought it was just that steam right there, and then out of nowhere we just started walking more and it became darker and I was like, 'Oh my god.' We didn't know there was a car right there, we just heard a boom. I just thought it was a normal car engine," he said. "This is our first time coming here so we didn't know how it is, we just thought the regular boom was just normal." 

"Right away [the car] was just leaking oil, flaming underneath the right tire, next thing you know the hood just burst up in flames," said witness Max Padilla, 24, who is visiting the city for the first time from Orange County. "I was sitting right here [the pedestrian area by 45th Street]. The car just came out of nowhere, not sure which direction it came in but it crashed into the pole and just came up and burst into flames. I just [saw] it where he crashed."

According to witness Adam Klobucisto, another man was taken into custody after he tried to bike into the crime scene. "He was running, he was trying to go through this way but the cops weren't letting him, obviously, so he started resisting, he starting pushing the cops away and started hitting them," he told us.

You can see police taking someone into custody in the video below (though it is not yet clear if this was the driver, the biker, or someone else).

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement: "Today’s events at Times Square were nothing short of horrific. I was briefed at the scene by Commissioner O'Neill and saw firsthand the professionalism and diligence of New York’s first responders. As facts continue to emerge, my heart goes out to the victims of this terrible tragedy, as well as their families."

Update: The woman who was killed has been identified by the NY Post as 18-year-old Alyssa Elsman, who was visiting the city from Michigan. Her younger sister was also injured in the incident, and taken to a local hospital for treatment.

With Emma Whitford, Jen Chung, Aidan Gardiner and Jake Offenhartz

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