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Car plows into Times Square crowd; 1 dead, about 20 hurt

Car plows into Times Square crowd; 1 dead, about 20 hurt

May 18th, 2017 by Associated Press in National News

A car rests on a security barrier in New York's Times Square after driving through a crowd of pedestrians, injuring at least a dozen people, Thursday, May 18, 2017.

Photo by Mary Altaffer/AP

NEW YORK (AP) — A man steered his car Thursday onto a sidewalk running through the heart of Times Square and mowed down pedestrians for three blocks, killing a teenager and injuring 22 others, before he was tackled by bystanders, authorities said.

Pandemonium erupted when the vehicle barreled through the prime tourist location and slammed into a security barrier, coming to rest with two of its wheels in the air. The car leaned on a lamppost and steel barriers intended to block vehicles from getting onto the sidewalk.

"He didn't stop," said Asa Lowe, of Brooklyn, who was standing outside a store when he heard screaming. "He just kept going."

The driver was tackled by pedestrians and taken into custody. He tested negative for alcohol, but tests were still pending for drugs. Charges against him were pending.

The crash happened at midday on a hot, clear day that brought large crowds of people into the streets to enjoy the good weather. Video posted online showed steam or smoke pouring from the car for a few moments after it stopped moving.

The driver, a 26-year-old Navy veteran named Richard Rojas, was taken into custody, Police Commissioner James O'Neill said. Rojas had been arrested at least twice previously for driving while intoxicated, once in 2008 and once in 2015, police said. He pleaded guilty to an infraction in 2015 and was ordered to complete a drunken driving program and lost his license for 90 days.

He was arrested last week on a charge of menacing. Police said he pointed a kitchen knife at a notary who'd come over to do paperwork, and he accused the notary of stealing his identity. The case is pending.

In previous arrests, he told authorities he believed he was being harassed and followed, according to a law enforcement official who wasn't authorized to speak publicly on an ongoing probe and spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Investigators were searching his Bronx home and canvassing the crime scene for video.

Rojas enlisted in the Navy in 2011 and was an electrician's mate fireman apprentice, according to the Navy. He was most recently based at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida, and was discharged in 2014.

He wasn't immediately available to comment.

The crash killed an 18-year-old woman, and the injured included her 13-year-old sister, police said.

Police do not suspect a link to terrorism, but the vehicle was checked by the bomb squad and some landmarks were getting beefed-up security.

"Out of an abundance of caution," Mayor Bill de Blasio added.

Police said Rojas made a quick U-turn onto 42nd Street and drove up the sidewalk for three blocks, passing tourist draws like the Hard Rock Cafe and the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant and mowing people down before slamming into a pole. He was combative with officers who handcuffed him, authorities said.