Richard Rojas (Pool photo)
A U.S. Navy veteran accused of intentionally mowing down pedestrians on a Times Square sidewalk, killing a woman and injuring 22 other people, pleaded not guilty Thursday to murder and attempted murder.
Richard Rojas, dressed in a beige jail uniform, mostly looked down during his arraignment in the May 18 melee. He spoke only to tell the judge good morning; his lawyer entered the plea in Manhattan Supreme Court.
The mother of one of the victims, high school student Jessica Williams who was badly injured, sat in court and cried during the brief hearing with two others, including a man who gave Rojas the finger as he left court.
Rojas’ attorney, Enrico DeMarco, said outside court it was a “terrible thing that happened,” but added, “how we handle this type of a case will determine how civilized of a society we are.”
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office says Rojas, who lived with his mother in the Bronx, drove his car through Times Square, then made a U-turn, steered his car onto a sidewalk and plowed through tourists for three blocks before crashing into protective barriers.
Photographers snapped pictures of a wild-eyed Rojas after he climbed from the wrecked car and ran through the street. He told police he had been smoking marijuana laced with the hallucinogen PCP.
The impact killed Alyssa Elsman, an 18-year-old from Michigan, and injured her 13-year-old sister, Ava.
According to prosecutors, Rojas said he wanted to “kill them all.” Assistant District Attorney Harrison Schweiloch is representing the government.
Rojas, 26, has several prior criminal cases. He pleaded guilty shortly before the crash to harassment in the Bronx after he was accused of pulling a knife on a notary in his home. He also had two previous drunken driving cases.