Police said the Bronx man who drove his car down a crowded sidewalk in Times Square on Thursday was apparently high on synthetic marijuana.
Law enforcement sources told Eyewitness News 26-year-old Richard Rojas appeared extremely impaired after the crash. It's believed he had been smoking the drug, also known as K2, prior to the crash that killed a tourist and injured 22 others. Initial tests have come back negative for alcohol but positive for drugs. Blood tests are underway to check for the presence of synthetic marijuana or PCP among other substances. Rojas, who is a notary, was taken into custody shortly after the crash, which happened just before noon.
Police said he had driven the wrong way at a high rate of speed up Seventh Avenue at 42nd Street on the sidewalk for three blocks. His vehicle was stopped by a metal stanchion at West 45th Street. Police said Rojas attempted to flee but was he detained by officers and civilians who apprehended the driver. Investigators found materials that indicated Rojas has an interest in Scientology and made comments to police that indicated he thought the end of the world was coming. Police are trying to figure out whether they should put any stock in his statements, fearing he might be suffering from psychological problems.
Rojas, who is a notary, is a Naval veteran, serving from 2011 to 2014. He has two prior arrests for driving while intoxicated, in Queens and Manhattan. In one of Rojas' two previous DWI arrests, he was allegedly going 90 mph in a 50 mph zone.
Officials said Rojas told police he was "hearing voices" and investigators believe he may have been under the influence of drugs, with an alcohol test coming back negative. "You were supposed to shoot me! I wanted to kill them," he shouted after being detained, a source told Reuters.
Rojas was due to appear in court on Friday charged with second-degree murder, aggravated vehicular homicide and several counts of attempted murder. Police identified the woman killed as 18-year-old Alyssa Elsman, who was on holiday with her family from Portage, Michigan. Her 13-year-old sister was also struck by the car, but survived, police said. The incident, at a crowded landmark long considered a terrorist target, initially raised fears of another Isis attack as the group calls on its supporters to carry out more vehicle rammings like those seen in Stockholm, London, Berlin and Nice.
But there was no claim of responsibility from Isis and the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio said there was "no indication that this was an act of terrorism". The Independent spoke with one man, identified by the first name Landry, who claimed he helped detain Rojas.
In previous arrests, Rojas told authorities he believed he was being harassed and followed, officials said.