Car slams into Times Square pedestrians, killing one, injuring 22

NEW YORK, May 18 (Reuters) - A former U.S. Navy sailor slammed his car into pedestrians in New York City's packed Times Square on Thursday, killing an 18-year-old woman and wounding 22 people, and authorities said there was no indication it was an act of terrorism.

Witnesses said the motorist mounted the sidewalk in a burgundy Honda sedan and sped along more than three city blocks, knocking people over before the car hit a pole and came to rest at 45th Street and Broadway in Midtown Manhattan.

Police who took the driver into custody identified him as Richard Rojas, 26, of the New York City borough of the Bronx. They said he had been arrested twice for drunken driving in 2008 and 2015, and once earlier this month for menacing.

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Car strikes pedestrians in Times Square
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Car strikes pedestrians in Times Square
NEW YORK, USA - MAY 18: Flames and smoke rises from a wrecked vehicle after it plowed into pedestrians on a busy sidewalk on the corner of West 45th St. and Broadway at Times Square, New York, NY United States on May 18, 2017. Multiple pedestrians were struck Thursday by a speeding vehicle in the heart of New York City, according to reports. At least 13 people wounded. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Richard Rojas is escorted from the 7th precinct by New York City Police officers after being processed in connection with the speeding vehicle that struck pedestrians on a sidewalk in Times Square in New York City, U.S., May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
An injured woman lays on the sidewalk in Times Square after a speeding vehicle struck pedestirans on the sidewalk inn New York City, U.S., May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A photo of victim Alyssa Elsman of Portage, Michigan is posted on a baricade in Times Square May 19, 2017, the morning after Richard Rojas crashed his car into a a crowd of pedestrians in New York's Times Square killing one and injuring 22 people. A US Navy veteran who plowed a car into pedestrians in New York's Times Square, killing a woman and injuring 22 other people, has been charged with murder and attempted murder, police said Friday. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
First responders are at the scene as people help injured pedestrians after a vehicle struck pedestrians on a sidewalk in Times Square in New York, U.S., May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Jeremy Schultz
First responders and people help injured pedestrians after a vehicle struck pedestrians on a sidewalk in Times Square in New York, U.S., May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Jeremy Schultz
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUALS COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY An injured man is seen on the sidewalk in Times Square after a speeding vehicle struck pedestrians on the sidewalk in New York City, U.S., May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar
First responders are assisting injured pedestrians after a vehicle struck pedestrians on a sidewalk in Times Square in New York, U.S., May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Jeremy Schultz
An injured woman is seen on the sidewalk in Times Square after a speeding vehicle struck pedestrians on the sidewalk inn New York City, U.S., May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUALS COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY An injured man is seen on the sidewalk in Times Square after a speeding vehicle struck pedestrians on the sidewalk in New York City, U.S., May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar
First responders tend to an injured pedestrian after a vehicle struck pedestrians on a sidewalk in Times Square in New York, U.S., May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
A woman attends to an injured man on the sidewalk in Times Square after a speeding vehicle struck pedestrians on the sidewalk in New York City, U.S., May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUALS COVERAGE OF SCENES OF DEATH OR INJURY A body of a deceased person lies covered on the sidewalk in front of the 3 Times Sq building in Times Square after a speeding vehicle struck pedestrians on the sidewalk in New York City, U.S., May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar TEMPLATE OUT
Police investigate the vehicle that drove onto sidewalk and struck pedestrians in Times Square in New York, U.S., May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 18: A wrecked car sits in the intersection of 45th and Broadway in Times Square, May 18, 2017 in New York City. According to reports there were multiple injuries and one fatality after the car plowed into a crowd of people. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, USA - MAY 18: A wounded civilian is being hospitalized after a maroon sedan vehicle plowed into pedestrians on a busy sidewalk on the corner of West 45th St. and Broadway at Times Square, New York, NY United States on May 18, 2017. Multiple pedestrians were struck Thursday by a speeding vehicle in the heart of New York City, according to reports. At least 13 people wounded. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers stand near newly erected concrete barricades outside the 3 Times Square building in Times Square where a speeding vehicle struck pedestrians Thursday in New York City, U.S., May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar
A vehicle that struck pedestrians and later crashed is seen on the sidewalk in Times Square in New York City, U.S., May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People walk between newly erected concrete barricades outside the 3 Times Square building in Times Square where a speeding vehicle struck pedestrians Thursday in New York City, U.S., May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Emergency personnel inspect a vehicle involved in striking a number of pedestrians in Times Square in New York, May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Richard Rojas is escorted from the 7th precinct by New York City Police officers after being processed in connection with the speeding vehicle that struck pedestrians on a sidewalk in Times Square in New York City, U.S., May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
A photo of victim Alyssa Elsman of Portage, Michigan is posted on a baricade in Times Square May 19, 2017, the morning after Richard Rojas crashed his car into a a crowd of pedestrians in New York's Times Square killing one and injuring 22 people. A US Navy veteran who plowed a car into pedestrians in New York's Times Square, killing a woman and injuring 22 other people, has been charged with murder and attempted murder, police said Friday. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
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There was "no indication" it was an act of terrorism, Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference at the scene.

Initial reports of the incident brought to mind vehicle attacks on pedestrians like those seen in recent months in Britain, France, Germany, Israel and Sweden.

"People were being hit and rolling off the car," said Josh Duboff, who works at the nearby Thomson Reuters headquarters. He said he leaped out of the way to avoid being struck.

Shoes were scattered on the sidewalk. A woman's body lay covered with a bloodstained blanket. A police officer kept vigil nearby, sadly shaking his head.

The dead woman was named by police as Alyssa Elsman, an 18-year-old who was on vacation with her family from Michigan.

Hundreds of thousands of people, many of them tourists from around the world, pass daily through Times Square, the heart of the Broadway theater district.

The bustling streets are heavily patrolled by police, some on horseback. Many, but not all, sidewalks are lined with barricades and planters for fear of vehicle attacks.

The incident took place close to noon ET (1600 GMT) on a bright, sunny day. Security camera footage showed the car slam into pedestrians who moments earlier were ambling along, some carrying shopping bags and others pushing baby strollers.

A bouncer from the Planet Hollywood restaurant and a ticket agent were among onlookers who helped police subdue the suspect when he tried to flee the scene, media reports said.

Broadway shows would go ahead as planned on Thursday evening in the many theaters in the area, organizers said in a statement.

'MOWED EVERYONE DOWN'

Court records showed Rojas was also arrested at a naval base in Jacksonville, Florida, in September 2012 after he yelled, "my life is over," and threatened to kill police.

After Thursday's incident, authorities cordoned off an area from 41st to 47th streets and from 6th to 8th avenues for several hours, effectively shutting down one of the busiest parts of one of the busiest cities in the world.

The crash occurred near the headquarters of the Reuters news agency, 3 Times Square. Building foreman Rodney Muir said he heard what sounded like a big bang and crunching metal. He said he looked out and saw what appeared to be a body in the street.

One of the injured, Cheryl Howard, had blood dripping down her right arm and a bruise above her left eye. She and her daughter were shopping when the car sped toward them.

"I'm so freaked out!" Howard's daughter said. "They mowed everyone down."

One injured woman nearby had a large open wound on her leg.

Times Square was evacuated in May 2010 when a car bomb that failed to explode was found in an SUV. Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American and Taliban-trained militant, later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Six months ago the city completed a $55 million, nearly 6-year renovation of Times Square that turned roadways into pedestrian zones. It aimed to improve traffic congestion and safety, but not all sidewalks were fitted with safety bollards or barriers to vehicles.

Thursday's incident revived memories of July last year when a man driving a truck killed at least 84 people, 10 of them children, and injured 202 in the French city of Nice. Islamic State claimed responsibility.

On March 22, five people were killed in London and about 40 injured after a car hit pedestrians and a suspected Islamist-inspired attacker stabbed a policeman near Britain's parliament.

(Additional reporting by Daniel Bases, Andrew Chung, Grant McCool, Jonathan Spicer, Barbara Goldberg, Joseph Ax, Hilary Russ, Peter Szekely, Letitia Stein, Colleen Jenkins and Emily Flitter; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Howard Goller)

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