An ex-naval officer who sped along a footpath in New York City’s tourist hub, Times Square, mowing down pedestrians wanted to commit murder and then wanted cops to kill him, police sources have revealed.
"You were supposed to shoot me! I wanted to kill them," Richard Rojas, a 26-year-old Bronx resident told police, after driving his car into pedestrians in the crowded tourist hotspot, the New York Post reports.
Rojas told officers he was hearing voices, two police officers told The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
They said Rojas tested negative for alcohol, but drug tests were still pending.
An 18-year-old tourist was killed in the incident and 22 others injured.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said no Australians are believed to have been injured in the incident.
"My understanding is that no Australians were involved but of course our consular staff are keeping a very close watch on that," Ms Bishop told reporters in New York.
Alyssa Elsman, from Michigan, was visiting the Big Apple with her family when the suspect made a "quick U-turn" and mounted the footpath at Seventh Avenue and 42nd Street at 12.15pm local time yesterday.
He then sped north for three blocks, going against the traffic, before his 2009 Honda Accord struck a pole and burst into flames at the corner of Broadway and West 45th Street, police said.
Ms Elsman’s 13-year-old sister was injured in the rampage and rushed to hospital.
Witnesses said Rojas ran from the burning car before he was tackled to the ground by brave bystanders.
Rojas, who has two prior drink driving offences, was taken into police custody after the crash, with police reviewing his criminal history.
Police say he was arrested last week after he pointed a knife at a notary and accused the notary of stealing his identity.
One official said Rojas told authorities when arrested previously that he believed he was being followed.
Rojas friends say he’d been going through a rough time.
Friend Harrison Ramos told reporters that Rojas hadn’t been the same since he returned from active duty in the Navy.
He says Rojas was posting "crazy stuff" online that has since been taken down.
Other friends say he was having money troubles.
One neighbour says Rojas is a "good person" and he doesn’t know what happened to him.
Witnesses said he was "driving like a madman and screaming".
"It looked like he was trying to hit people. He had the angriest, craziest face and he was literally going after people," Michael Rickerby, a 24-year-old tourist from Tennessee, told the New York Post.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said "there was no indication that this was an act of terrorism".
Horrific photos taken in the wake of the carnage show pedestrians lying in the street and a woman covered with a white sheet on the footpath.
Witnesses told News Corp Australia of their horror as the vehicle careered through Times Square at lunch time before bursting into flames.
Witness Bruno Carvalho said he was just metres from the maroon vehicle as it turned a corner and slammed into a pole.
"I was getting to Broadway, so from the corner I saw the car turn really fast. I would say two or three feet from us. We took some seconds to realise it wasn’t a bomb ... and we were wondering if we could help people or not. The car passed right in front of me," the Brazilian student, who lives in Albany, New York, told News Corp Australia.
Val Ashton, visiting New York City with her daughter Alex from Atlanta in Georgia, saw the maroon Honda on fire after it struck a pole.
"We were standing back behind the stairs and we saw all these police officers with their sirens trying to get through. It was just mayhem because it’s just so busy here all the time," she told News Corp Australia.
"They stopped traffic and the car was on fire. We were standing pretty close at that point videoing it. The fire was coming out of the front, at the top of the hood and the bottom of it. And the firemen were trying to push us away, they thought it might have been a bomb and the car could explode."
Mrs Ashton said she feared the car could have been carrying a bomb.
"I was thinking, how could a car even get up on the sidewalk like that with so many people," she said.
Brave bystander Alpha Balde, a 57-year-old ticket agent for CitySightseeing, said he and a Planet Hollywood bouncer saw the suspect sprint away from the vehicle and together they wrestled him to the ground.
"He got out of the car and tried to run to Planet Hollywood so the man comes meet him right on the corner in the middle of the street and he hit him one time," Mr Balde told News Corp Australia.
Angela Parson, a tourist from London, said she saw the driver being arrested and feared he was a terrorist.
"We got to the corner and saw the car come down the wrong side of the road and it was on fire. And then we saw the terrorist. I did see him very clearly, if he was a terrorist. He looked like a terrorist to me, we just had one in London," she told News Corp Australia.
Witness Annie Donahey, 24, said she heard "thuds" as the car barrelled into the crowd at lunch time.
"It looked like he was trying to hit them. He wasn’t trying to go back on the street," she told New York Daily News.
"There was a guy on the windshield, along for the ride, but he kept on going. A girl who was next to me a moment ago, she was on the floor on her back."
Of the "thuds" she heard, she said: "It was the sounds of bodies being hit, then came the screams. People were jumping out of the way, but he just kept going. Then there was silence for what seemed to be a really long time, then the screaming returned. There were bodies covered in blood."
New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said at least 22 people were injured, with four people taken to area hospitals in a critical condition with open fractures and "multiple traumas".
"None of those four are likely to perish. We’re very hopeful that they will survive," he said. Three other injuries are considered "very serious" but not critical.
New York’s mayor visited the injured in hospital.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was briefed at the scene, saying in a statement: "Today’s events at Times Square were nothing short of horrific."
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer tweeted that President Donald Trump was "made aware of the situation."
NBC News reported that the suspect, who was tested for possible drug or alcohol intoxication, admitted to cops he was smoking marijuana prior to the crash.
It was also reported that Rojas got into a fistfight with one of the officers as they attempted to arrest him. The officer was not badly hurt.
Officials and sources told NBC News that Rojas was a former member of the navy with a history of drink driving arrests.
He served in the US Navy from 2011 to 2015, and was not honourably discharged, sources told the New York Post.
The New York Post reports Rojas was arrested on May 11 in the New York borough of The Bronx for threatening someone who came to his house to get an annuity notarised.
Rojas accused the person of stealing his ID, then put a knife to his throat, police sources said.
He was charged with menacing and criminal possession of a weapon, but pleaded guilty to harassment.
Rojas was also charged with drink driving in 2008 and 2015, according to sources.
In another New York City borough, Staten Island, 11 people were injured after two vehicles collided shortly after the crash in Times Square.
Paramedics rushed the victims to Richmond University Medical Centre, although officials said many of the injuries were considered minor.
Cops were investigating the cause of the accident.
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