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Details are emerging about the driver behind a deadly crash in New York’s Times Square Thursday, in which he mounted the sidewalk and hit a crowd of pedestrians, killing one and injuring 22 others.
Richard Rojas, 26, was named as the suspect in the incident which immediately drew fears of terror attacks similar those committed by ISIS supporters in Europe. Both ISIS and Al Qaeda have called for attacks in which followers drive through crowds of pedestrians. Such car-based attacks have been carried out in the last year in Nice, London, and Berlin, as well as at Ohio State University in November.
However, Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters there was “no indication that this was an act of terrorism.” Authorities instead pointed to a possible influence of narcotics, and also mental illness. Law enforcement officials told The New York Times that Rojas said he heard voices and had hallucinations. He also talked about provoking the police to kill him. Authorities believe he was also under the influence of PCP, The New York Post reported.
Despite the influence of drugs, it also appears Rojas acted deliberately. CCTV of the incident shows a sharp turn into the crowd, then the vehicle accelerating until it hits a barrier. One person, a teenager from Michigan, was killed and 22 injured.
Other CCTV footage shows Rojas abandoning the vehicle then attacking passers-by, before being restrained. A witness told The Associated Press Rojas was screaming and swinging his arms before he was taken down.
The incident brought midtown Manhattan to a standstill for hours as emergency services and counter-terrorism units flooded the scene, and blocked off Times Square amid fears it was a terrorist attack.
On Thursday evening, Rojas was charged with murder, attempted murder and aggravated vehicular homicide, indicating that the authorities seem to think that — no matter how intoxicated Rojas was — it was an intentional act.
“It appears to be intentional in the sense that he was troubled and lashing out,” De Blasio said on a local radio station.
Rojas’s rap sheet includes two arrests for driving while intoxicated in 2008 and 2015, according to the Times, and earlier this month he was charged for threatening with a knife a man who had come to his apartment to notarize documents.
Rojas served in the Navy between 2011 and 2014 before being court martialed, the Associated Press reported. A friend of his told the outlet that he had been having a rough time since being discharged and had been posting “crazy stuff” online that has since been taken down.
Adam Shaw is a political reporter for Breitbart News. Follow Adam on Twitter: @AdamShawNY