NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Chaos erupted as a car plowed into pedestrians on a Times Square street at lunchtime Thursday, killing an 18-year-old woman and injuring 22 others.
Just before noon, a Honda Accord went up onto the sidewalk at West 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue, striking multiple pedestrians before crashing into a metal barrier three blocks away at 45th Street.
NYPD officers and civilians apprehended the driver, who has been identified as 26-year-old Richard Rojas, of the Bronx.
A ticket agent from a tour bus company said he and a bouncer from Planet Hollywood helped nab the suspect.
“I see the car coming in fast, no brake, no nothing,” a witness said. “He was running from the scene. The bouncer from Planet Hollywood the bouncer hit him… so we jumped on top of him.”
Times Square is on the must see list for the vast majority of visitors.
“Seems like a harmless fun place to walk around and then something dangerous happens. You don’t expect it,” Jennifer Haines said.
Times Square is the crossroads of a world that is increasingly interconnected. Within moments of the crash, people around the world could follow livestreams of the accident — a Facebook live video from the scene reached almost 150,000 views by Thursday evening.
Tourists from England said within minutes, their phones exploded with messages from concerned friend who knew they were in New York.
“I think they’re on the internet panicking, but we just sent them a post to say we’re fine, we’re okay,” Jo Matthews said.
A German tourist learned about the tragedy when his sister texted him from Frankfurt.
“They heard about it in Germany, but we didn’t know because I don’t have internet at the moment. Me, in New York, don’t know that something happened here,” Amine Sebba said.
Eye witnesses described chaos on the ground.
“The car just came really fast and injured a lot of people,” said Bruno, a student. “It’s really tragic… Some woman in front of us she died and lot of people had serious injuries. Blood everywhere, we kept looking at ourselves like what can we do. But the police came really fast.”
“Somebody knocked him out — the bouncer from Planet Hollywood. He’s the one who hit him, he hit him one time. As soon as he tried to run from the scene, the first guy he sees is the bouncer from Planet Hollywood, and the bouncer hit him, and all this came out — blood. … We jumped on top of him and ripped his shirt, wanted to make sure he had no gun or knife on him,” a tour bus ticket agent told CBS2’s Janelle Burrell. “I see the car coming in fast, no brake, no nothing. Bang! Before I realized it there’s fire on the car… my co-worker jumped from the scene. … I don’t smell alcohol because he turned around and we saw his face. He said to make him loose. … Anything happens here there’s no time for people to react.”
“There was a lot of tourists here there was a lot of people here and also a lot of people sitting, having lunch and talking. It was a nice day. I just heard the sound of the car flipping and on fire,”a man who worked nearby said. “I was scared to get closer, I’m here every day.”
“The car just came and hit the pole out of nowhere,” said Max from California. “Everybody was just running, everybody was concerned for their lives.”
“We saw that the car was up on its side and there was smoke and flames coming out of the top of the roof and it was coming out of the bottom also and the police rushed over here and pushed us all back across the street they said it could be a possible bomb or the car could explode, but they had it under control pretty quickly,” said Val Ashton from Atlanta who saw the aftermath.
“All I hear is a huge bang sound,” said Jacob, who arrived at the scene moments after impact. “It could be me or anyone else. I’m scared, it’s very surprising but scary at the same time just how one person ended up doing this.”
The NYPD says the motive is not terror, but possibly a DWI.
Cops froze multiple blocks of Midtown, making travel an exercise in frustration.
“It’s been hard for everybody to work around it,” bus driver Sharn Pell said.
One group of tourists was worried about missing a flight home to Spain.
At one point, police rerouted traffic north on southbound Broadway, trying to break the gridlock.
One tourist huddled in a shoe store in the immediate aftermath, many others said they were shaken, but understood that things happen in a world capital like New York.
According to pedestrian stats from the Times Square Alliance, there are 90,000 pedestrians a day at the corner of 45th and 7th where the crash occurred.