The Bronx man charged in the Times Square crash has reportedly apologized, but also claims he has no memory of the rampage that killed an 18-year-old tourist and injured 20 other pedestrians.
“I just want to apologize to all the victims’ families…I want to apologize to my mom,” Richard Rojas told the New York Post in a jailhouse interview on Saturday.
Rojas, a 26-year-old Navy vet, drove his maroon Honda Accord onto a sidewalk at 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue just before noon on Thursday, hitting pedestrians and speeding down the sidewalk for three blocks even as bodies were piling up on top of his car, NYPD Chief of Manhattan South Detectives William Aubry said at a news conference on Friday.
He left his Mount Eden apartment at 10:30 a.m. Thursday and arrived at Times Square at 11:54 a.m., Aubry said.
“There was no incident in between,” he said. “That goes to his state of mind — his motivation.”
Rojas took off running after he crashed his car into a metal bollard at 45th Street; a traffic agent, with the help of civilians, was able to wrestle him to the ground.
The agent later told police that Rojas had yelled “I wanted to kill them,” according to a criminal complaint.
But Rojas claims he doesn’t remember any of the carnage from that day, telling the Post that “I can’t believe it.”
As the NYPD continues to work with the Manhattan district attorney’s office to determine Rojas’ mental health and whether he was on drugs at the time of the incident, Rojas said he tried to seek help in the days before the deadly crash.
“I was trying to get help,” he told the Post, adding that he recently went to a veterans center and spoke with a mental health counselor, but that he was told they would call him on Monday.
Rojas was arraigned Friday on several charges including second-degree murder, and held without bail.
Following his arrest, Rojas was described as having glassy eyes, slurred speech and was unsteady on his feet during an interview with investigators at the Manhattan South Precinct.
Rojas then told police he smoked marijuana laced with PCP, according to the complaint, but he later told the Post he has no recollection of those statements.
“I guess it was laced with something,” he said in the Post interview.
Alcohol has already been ruled out, but a blood test has been expedited with the medical examiner’s office and the results are expected in the next few days, Aubry said Friday.
The NYPD also secured a search warrant and planned to search Rojas’ apartment, according to Aubry. Rojas lives with his mother, who police said is cooperating with the investigation.
A search of his car didn’t turn up anything out of the ordinary, he said.
Rojas’ family told police that he had been struggling with mental health issues since his childhood, Mayor Bill de Blasio said during an interview on WNYC.
“So, it appears to be intentional in the sense that he was troubled and lashing out,” the mayor added. “What we don’t — do not know yet fully, we know there was some kind of drugs in his system, we don’t know the full analysis and whether the type of drugs in his system exacerbated his feelings in a negative way.”
Speaking outside of Rojas’ apartment building on Thursday, friend Harrison Ramos said the Navy veteran had a tough time after his service, and had come back with a drinking problem.
“Don’t make him out to be a terrorist or something,” Ramos said. “He served his country and when he came back, nobody helped him.”
Rojas served in the Navy from 2011 to 2014 and has a criminal history that includes two previous DWI arrests, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said on Thursday. He pleaded guilty to an infraction in 2015 and was ordered to complete a drunken driving program and lost his license for 90 days, according to The Associated Press.
He was also arrested on May 11 on a charge of menacing. Police said he pointed a kitchen knife at a notary and accused the notary of stealing his identity.
Of the 20 people who were injured, three were in critical condition on Friday, Aubry said, including the 13-year-old sister of the woman who was killed, Alyssa Elsman of Portage, Michigan.
Elsman was struck on Seventh Avenue between 42nd and 43rd streets and pronounced dead at the scene, police said. Her sister, Ava, remains hospitalized with a collapsed lung and a broken pelvis, Aubry said.
The sisters were on vacation with their family, police said. On Friday, people left flowers, photographs of Elsman and a stuffed teddy bear near the spot where she died.
A GoFundMe page set up by the Elsman family to help pay for Ava Elsman’s medical bills has raised over $10,000.