Official: Times Square driver wanted to ‘kill them all’
New York — A man who was behind the wheel of a car that barreled through crowds of pedestrians in Times Square told police after his arrest that he had been smoking marijuana laced with the hallucinogenic drug PCP, according to a criminal complaint.
Richard Rojas, 26, made his first court appearance Friday, a day after he was arrested in what police are now calling an intentional attack that killed an 18-year-old Michigan woman and injured 22 other people.
“He murdered in cold blood,” Assistant District Attorney Harrison Schweiloch said during the brief proceeding.
Rojas, wearing the same red T-shirt and jeans he was photographed in a day earlier, appeared subdued as prosecutors detailed murder and attempted murder charges.
He didn’t enter a plea and was held without bail.
Rojas’ lawyer, Enrico Demarco, had no comment. His family and friends who attended the hearing cried outside court and didn’t speak to reporters. His next court appearance is May 24.
Rojas, who lived with his mother in the Bronx, drove his car Thursday from his home through Times Square, then made a U-turn, steered his car onto a sidewalk, and roared back up the sidewalk, plowing through helpless tourists for three blocks before he crashed his car into protective barriers.
Photographers snapped pictures of a wild-eyed Rojas after he climbed from the wrecked car and ran through the street waving his arms. A group that included a security supervisor at a nearby Planet Hollywood restaurant tackled him.
After he was detained, he said he wanted to “kill them all” and police should have shot him to stop him, a prosecutor said in court Friday.
Officials are awaiting toxicology results, though Rojas “had glassy eyes, slurred speech, and was unsteady,” during his arrest, the complaint said.
PCP, or phencyclidine, can cause users to become delusional, violent or suicidal, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center.
Three people were still in critical condition with serious head injuries, and a fourth is being treated for a collapsed lung and broken pelvis, according to the complaint.
Alyssa Elsman, of Portage, Michigan, was killed in the crash. Her 13-year-old sister was among the injured.
A friend of the victim, Olivia Lemke, said the Elsman family went on a family trip once a year to New York.
“She was just selfless. She always wanted to make people happy. That’s all she ever cared about,” Lemke said.
Rojas has several prior criminal cases that paint a picture of a troubled man.
He pleaded guilty last week to harassment in the Bronx after he was accused of pulling a knife on a notary in his home.
“You’re trying to steal my identity,” he said, according to prosecutors.
He also had two previous drunken driving cases.
Rojas enlisted in the Navy in 2011 and served for part of 2012 aboard the USS Carney, a destroyer. Rojas spent his final months in the Navy at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida.
In 2012, he was arrested and accused of beating a cab driver whom he said had disrespected him by trying to charge too much, according to the arrest report. The arresting officer said Rojas screamed, “My life is over!” as he was being detained. After his arrest, Rojas told the officer he was going to kill all police and military police he might see after his release from jail, the Jacksonville sheriff’s office report stated.
Alan Ceballos, an attorney who represented Rojas in that case, said the state charges were dropped after the military stepped in to take jurisdiction over the criminal case.
Navy records show that in 2013 Rojas spent two months at a naval prison in Charleston, South Carolina. He was discharged in 2014 as the result of a special court martial, a Navy official said.
Associated Press writers Jake Pearson in New York and Jason Dearen in Gainesville, Florida, contributed to this report.