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Times Square car incident: 1 dead, 23 injured; driver in custody

Posted at 12:15 PM, May 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-18 13:50:43-04

NEW YORK — An 18-year-old woman was killed and at least 23 people injured Thursday when a speeding car plowed into pedestrians in Manhattan’s bustling Times Square, city officials said.

The driver of the 2009 Honda Accord is in custody, New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill said. The motorist, 26-year-old Richard Rojas of the Bronx, has been arrested twice in the past for drunken driving, he said.

The incident, which unfolded just before noon, is being investigated as an accident, a police official said. There is no indication it was an act of terrorism, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and other city leaders said.

Before striking pedestrians, the car was “out of control,” an emergency management official said. Witnesses on social media described a speeding car plowing into people before crashing to a halt.

“A woman in front on the sidewalk was hit and tossed before then car reached 44th st, continued plowing people down at full speed up to 45th street, where it was stopped after crashing into more people and the light post pictured,” posted Instagram user Ed G Val, who “saw the car speeding north on the west sidewalk of southbound 7th Ave.” from across the street.

Harlem resident Tyezhane, 20, who would only give her first name, said she was walking to work at a shoe store when she saw the car on the sidewalk. She bolted across the street.

“There were a lot of people out, enjoying the good day, and then I heard screaming and the car running over bodies,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on. At first, I thought someone was intentional doing it. I was scared for my life.”

Social media images show injured people on the street, a car upended at an angle and crowds gathered in the heart of the tourist hub.

Elizabeth Long of Ohio told CNN she was walking to the Hard Rock Cafe when she saw a maroon car heading toward her on the sidewalk. She ran into a building and prayed, she said.

After the car crashed to a halt, Long said, at least six people were scattered on the street. One woman was bleeding from a head injury, she said.

Annette Proehl, a Pennsylvania resident, was in Times Square with children on a field trip when she heard a screeching tires vehicle and people screaming. She saw it slam into a steel divider and catch fire, she said.

Proehl was hit by a piece of gravel but otherwise was not injured, she said.

“It was more of a surreal thing,” she said. “We initially thought they were filming something.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and de Blasio rushed to the scene. President Donald Trump, whose home at Trump Tower is one mile from the crash scene, is aware of the incident and will be updated, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer tweeted.

Patsy Sciutto, who works in Times Square, said she was meeting someone for lunch when an announcement came over a loudspeaker that the building was on lockdown because of an incident outside.

Officers there told her there was an “unknown speeding car,” Sciutto said.

Times Square averaged about 360,000 daily visitors in April, according to a tally by the Times Square Alliance, making it one of the most visited locations in the world.

This is a developing story.