Crime

The Times Square Driver, Rojas, Heard Voices

| by David Bonner

The man who ran over pedestrians with his car in Times Square on May 18 was reportedly "hearing voices."

Richard Rojas, 26, told police he was hearing voices and expected to die, reports The Associated Press. Rojas, a Bronx resident, had been discharged from the U.S. Navy following disciplinary problems.

According to police reports, Rojas drove a Honda at a high rate of speed from West 42nd Street to West 45th Street, where he crashed into a metal stanchion, causing the car to catch fire.

Police said 23 people were injured, including an 18-year-old from Michigan who died. That victim has been identified Alyssa Elsman, whose 13-year-old sister was among those injured. Four victims are in critical condition, three are in serious condition, and all are expected to survive. After crashing, Rojas reportedly emerged from his vehicle behaving like a crazy person. "He began screaming, no particular words but just utter screaming. He was swinging his arms at the same time," said Ken Bradix, a security supervisor at a nearby Planet Hollywood restaurant.

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Rojas, who was eventually subdued by police and bystanders, tested negative for alcohol, but is suspected of being high on K2, a synthetic drug which has been wreaking havoc across the nation.

Although used as a marijuana substitute, it is actually "a family of man-made chemicals" that are "dressed up in a weed costume," writes Slate staff writer Leon Neyfakh.

“I think we’ve done our community a disservice by calling this drug a synthetic marijuana," says Troy Officer of the Austin Police Department. "This is no more marijuana than if I put bleach in a martini glass and called it a cocktail." In Austin, overdoses of the drug have caused a “total drain" on their downtown police resources, he told KXAN.

Regarding the Rojas incident, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said there was "no indication that this was an act of terrorism." Evidence indicates that Rojas is a man with mental problems, and these problems are said to have been the cause of previous criminal activity by Rojas.

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Several days prior to his assault with a moving vehicle, he was arrested after pointing a knife at a notary, whom he accused of stealing his identity.

He exhibited similar paranoid symptoms during previous arrests, claiming he was being harassed and followed, according to one law enforcement official. In 2008 and 2015 he was arrested for intoxicated driving, as confirmed by NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill.

Harrison Ramos, a friend of Rojas, said he wasn't the same when he came back from the Navy in 2014. "He's been going through a real tough time," he said. Rojas enlisted in 2011 and served aboard the U.S.S. Carney. In 2013, he spent two months at a naval brig in Charleston, South Carolina, according to Navy records, which do not indicate the charges against him at that time.

Rojas was discharged in 2014 as the result of a special court martial, a Navy official said. 

Sources: The Associated Press/WABC, Slate, KXAN / Photo credit: Andrea Favia/Wikimedia Commons

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