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Murder Charges Filed Against Suspect Richard Rojas In Deadly Times Square Crash

UPDATED 05/19/17 12:15 a.m.

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A suspect has been charged with murder, attempted murder and aggravated vehicular homicide, after an 18-year-old woman was killed and 22 other people were injured when a car barreled through Times Square Thursday.

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The driver has been identified as 26-year-old Richard Rojas, of the Bronx. Rojas was charged early Friday with one count of second-degree murder, 20 counts of attempted murder, and five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide.

Police quickly tackled him and rushed him away from the bloody scene. He was taken from Midtown to the Seventh Precinct to undergo drug and alcohol testing.

Rojas was calm and quiet as police later led him out of the precinct hours later – a marked difference from just a few hours earlier. He was seen in a crosswalk moments before the crash, as looking completely crazed before he was taken into custody.

Police sources tell CBS2 that Rojas passed the breathalyzer test.

But sources said Rojas initially tested positive for marijuana. Further testing was under way late Thursday to determine whether there were any additional drugs in his system.

Sources say Rojas told police he smoked something before getting behind the wheel, CBS2’s Andrea Grymes reports.

Authorities say Rojas does have a criminal record, including multiple DWI charges.

Just last Thursday, Rojas was arrested for menacing after he allegedly pulled a kitchen knife on a visitor to his Bronx home.

In April 2015, he was arrested for DWI in Manhattan and later pleaded guilty to operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol. In August 2008, he was also arrested for DWI in Queens.

Rojas was also arrested on suspicion of battery in 2012 at the Mayport Naval Base in Jacksonville, Florida, where he was stationed at the time. In a report, a police officer said he pulled over a green Honda that Rojas was driving on Sept. 23, 2012, and took Rojas into custody on suspicion that Rojas had beaten a cab driver on the naval base.

The report said in the back of the squad car, Rojas admitted to the officer that he had “beaten the s**t out of that cab driver and I’ll tell you why — he said I owe him $162. I beat the s**t out of him. He disrespected me!”

The cab driver, who was hospitalized, said Rojas had refused to pay a cab fare of $44. The cab driver said he followed Rojas into the barracks on the naval base and was attacked, according to the police report.

The arrest report said Rojas threatened to kill all police and military police officers he would see upon being released from jail.

Family friends say Rojas has been living on Walton Avenue in the Mount Eden section of the Bronx with his mother after serving in the armed forces. Mayor Bill de Blasio said he is a U.S. citizen and former member of the U.S. Navy.

He served in the Navy from July 2011 to March 2014 and spent two months in the brig in Charleston, South Carolina after being court martialed, CBS News reported. It was not clear whether the court martial was related to the arrest in the assault on the cab driver or for another reason.

To Rojas’ good friend, Jose Medrano, what he is accused of doing is extremely out of character. Medrano told 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon that he has never known Rojas to be angry or use drugs or alcohol.

“He is a family man; a hard worker; a true friend,” Medrano said in Spanish. “This hurts. This makes me feel bad, this news.”

But childhood friend Harrison Ramos said he saw Rojas’ troubled side.

“This devastated me when I heard this. It broke my heart. It really broke my heart, and I just feel that I wish I would have been there for him,” he said.

He described a smart, gung-ho kid who was born in the Bronx, went to Taft High School and took college courses, only to become withdrawn and seemingly emotionally disturbed years later after a stint in the Navy, CBS2’s Dave Carlin reports.

“He was into a lot of military stuff. That’s why he joined, that’s why he served his country. He loved his country,” Ramos said. “But he just didn’t come back the same.”

He said his friend started posting strange messages on social media, describing some of the content as “demonic.” And while he says those messages have since been deleted, they caused him to distance himself from Rojas.

“I assumed he got help, but I guess he didn’t,” Ramos said. “He wasn’t a bad person.”

CBS2 learned investigators took Rojas’ mother away for questioning.

“He is a family man, a hard worker, a true friend. This hurts, this makes me feel bad this news,” neighbor Jose Medrano said.

Friends say Rojas told people he works in real estate, but it’s unclear if he had any kind of realtors license, Carlin reported.

Police sources describe Rojas as emotional disturbed and say he made rambling statements after being arrested, Grymes reports.

Officials said there is no indication the incident was terror related.

Police sources say one possible motive investigators are looking into is suicide-by-cop based on statements Rojas allegedly made to the arresting officers, Carlin reported.

Rojas was taken to NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue for a medical evaluation following his arrest.

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