The Bronx man who mowed down dozens of pedestrians in Times Square on Thursday, killing a young tourist, told police I wanted to kill them and said he was high on marijuana laced with PCP when he was arrested, according to court documents. Richard Rojas had glassy eyes, slurred speech and was unsteady when detectives interviewed him, during which he told officers, according to a criminal complaint: I smoked marijuana. I laced the marijuana with PCP.
The complaint also said Rojas ran at a police officer after crashing his vehicle into pedestrians at Seventh Avenue and West 45th Street, and told the officer: I wanted to kill them. During a brief court appearance in Manhattan criminal court on Friday, Judge Tamiko Amaker ordered Rojas remanded.
Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Harrison Schweiloch, who asked for Rojas to be remanded, said in court that Rojas went on a murderous rampage against our city. He drove from the Bronx to Times Square without incident, the prosecutor said, but he drove to Seventh Avenue and waited for traffic to move, made a U-turn, hopped the sidewalk . . . he murdered in cold blood an 18-year-old woman. Rojas only stopped . . . after his car crashed into a metal post, the prosecutor said.
Rojas did not enter a plea Friday to charges of second-degree murder, 20 counts of second-degree attempted murder and five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide. He did not speak during the brief court hearing, during which he stood handcuffed. Rojas defense attorney, Enrico DeMarco, declined to comment after the hearing. Rojas family members attended the hearing but did not comment. The prosecutor added that Rojas had been arrested another time in the past month. He pleaded down a harassment charge in the Bronx to menacing, the prosecutor said. He also has two DWI convictions, from 2015 and 2008.
Meanwhile, at a Friday afternoon news conference in Times Square, Chief of Manhattan South Detectives William Aubry said 20 pedestrians were injured in Thursday s rampage, which also killed 18-year-old Alyssa Elsman of Michigan. Of those who survived, 19 were hospitalized, and seven were admitted to hospitals, Aubry said. Three remain in critical condition and one, a 38-year-old woman from Canada, is in very critical condition, he said. Elsman s 13-year-old sister, who was among those injured, is being treated at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center for a collapsed lung and a broken pelvis, Aubry said.
He gave a timeline of the events leading up to the rampage Thursday, saying Rojas left his Bronx home at 10:30 a.m., heading to Manhattan. A half-hour later, Aubry said Rojas was recorded entering Manhattan, and at 11:50 a.m. he was spotted at West 48th Street and Seventh Avenue. Rojas waited on Seventh Avenue at 42nd Street for traffic to pass, then made a right turn onto the sidewalk, striking Elsman between 42nd and 43rd streets, and continuing on to hit others, Aubry said. Parts of his car flew off as he struck people and objects, and at one point he drove under scaffolding on the sidewalk, he said.
After his vehicle stopped on a metal bollard, Rojas got out, only to be tackled by a traffic agent, on- and off-duty police officers, and a security guard, Aubry said. Investigators now are waiting for the results of blood tests to determine what substances Rojas was on, he said. I can t comment on the exact chemical substance, Aubry said. We hope bloodwork comes back in the next few days to confirm what we believe. Investigators also are continuing to search the vehicle which so far has yielded nothing out of the ordinary and planned Friday to search his Bronx home, which he shares with his mother, Aubry said.
Officials said there appeared to be no terrorism link, but were still investigating the motives of the driver. Aubry said investigators were poring through Rojas background, including any history of psychological illness.
But, Aubry said, the fact that Rojas drove without incident from the Bronx to Times Square and patiently waited at 42nd Street before turning onto the sidewalk to plow through pedestrian traffic goes to his state of mind.
He waited for those cars to pass and he accelerated, striking down those pedestrians, Aubry said.
In 2014, I testified before Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wisconsin, now the House speaker, at a congressional hearing about poverty in America. Every other person who testified that day knew about poverty because they had studied it. I was the only one there actually living it. As people who live in poverty, we are rarely invited to be part of the policy discussions that end up affecting us the most. The day I testified, I felt the weight of my entire community bearing down on me. Who knew when (or if) this opportunity would come again?
Back then, I wanted Ryan and his colleagues on the House Budget Committee to understand that poverty isn t about laziness or a lack of intelligence. Poverty is not a situation anyone wants. I don t know a single person who looks forward to standing in line at the food bank, using an EBT card at the grocery store or explaining to their kids why the electricity was shut off. These are not choices anyone would make. I also wanted the panel to understand that most people who live in poverty work hard, often at multiple jobs. I work as a security guard at an office building in Philadelphia, for example, and I style hair on the side for extra money. My husband works several jobs. But minimum wage, even on a full-time schedule when we can get it, simply isn t enough to live on. It s not enough to provide for our three children, all of whom have special needs.
Without federal programs to help us put food on the table and get affordable medical care like SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and Medicaid I don t know what we d do. Even now, I wake up every morning worrying about how my kids will get enough to eat. It s a constant, overwhelming stress. But it could be so much worse. Last month, one of those worst-case scenarios almost happened. Medicaid almost lost $880 billion in federal funding. This would have been disastrous for millions of families like mine. I was so relieved when the House health-care plan failed, but it also took me back to my experience testifying on Capitol Hill. At the time, I thought that if Ryan could just hear my story, if he could see me as a human being instead of a statistic, he might change his mind about restructuring the programs my family needs to survive. That s why, when he came over to shake my hand at the end of the hearing, I asked for a hug instead. For me, this was personal. I wanted him to remember me.
Now, almost three years later, I have no idea if my testimony (or the hug) made any difference to him at all. He hasn t altered his plans of structural changes to federal anti-poverty programs; it was only a matter of luck that his recent attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act failed, and with it, the restructuring of Medicaid. The structural changes Ryan envisions sometimes referred to as per capita caps or block grants are actually budget cuts that will devastate the safety net and harm families like mine. Forty-three million people participate in SNAP. Half of them are children, and the rest are mainly elderly, disabled and people with low-wage jobs. Seventy-four million Americans participate in Medicaid and the Children s Health Insurance Program. These Americans are not trying to scam the system. They just want to survive. The fact is, those of us living in poverty want the same things as everyone else. We want to own a home, have a good job, and send our kids to college. Sometimes it seems that lawmakers like Ryan feel that because we live in poverty, we don t deserve any of these things, or even a chance to strive for a better life.
I wish I could ask Ryan if he feels that way today. I wish I could say: Speaker Ryan, you claim to care about poverty. You sat and listened to my story. You looked me in the eye. You gave me a hug. Did my testimony matter at all to you? Do you really believe that my life, and the lives of my children, are worth less than a tax break for the wealthy? I have a lot of questions, but I will just say this: You have a chance to change course, to do right by the millions of people in this country who are working as hard as they can for a better life. I want to end poverty in this country as much as you do, but gutting the safety net is not the way to do it.
Gaines-Turner lives and works in Philadelphia.
Dustin Friedland was shot and killed during an alleged carjacking at the Mall at Short Hills on Dec. 15. 2013.
March 16, 2017 3:52 PM
On Dec. 15, 2013 Dustin and Jamie Friedland were carjacked while in the parking structure of The Mall at Short Hills. During the commission of the crime, Dustin was shot and killed. Four men, Hanif Thompson, Harif Ford, Basim Henry and Kevin Roberts were charged in connection with the murder. The trial for Basim Henry began on March 15, 2017. He was the first suspect to be tried. All four will be tried separately. Henry is being described at the alleged getaway driver.
Dec. 12, 2013
Suspects SUV with wood siding spotted at the mall on surveillance video. They were allegedly targeting a Range Rover, the same make of vehicle that the Friedlands were driving on the night of the murder
Dec. 15, 2013
Dustin and Jamie Friedland were celebrating their first wedding anniversary by having dinner and shopping at The Mall at Short Hills. Jamie Friedland testified that the couple had just gotten back to their Range Rover parked in the parking structure after spending the day at the mall.
Dec. 15, 2013 – 9 p.m.
Dustin Friedland is confronted by two men while his wife sits inside the Range Rover. Jamie Friedland testifies that Dustin and the two men argued, and a struggle took place. She testified that one of the men pointed a gun to Dustin s head and then she heard a gunshot.
Jamie says one of the men ordered her out of the car, the other man got into the passenger seat and the two suspect drove away. The other two suspects are alleged to have followed behind in another car as backup.
Dec. 15, 2013 – Immediately after the shooting
Jamie Friedland tries to call 911 but cannot get her new iPhone to work. A security guard is able to radio in for emergency services. It takes an ambulance 18 minutes to arrive at the mall and another 10 plus minutes to reach Dustin. Emergency crews had difficulty reaching the scene due to limitations of the parking structure. Crews had to walk on foot to the scene.
Dustin is taken to Morristown Medical Center but dies just before midnight.
Dec. 16, 2013
The Friedland s Range Rover is found behind a vacant home on Renner Avenue in Newark about 8 miles away from the mall. A massive manhunt is underway for the people responsible.
Dec. 21, 2013
Hanif Thompson, Harif Ford, Basim Henry and Kevin Roberts are arrested and charged in connection with the shooting. Ford and Roberts are arrested in Newark. Thompson is arrested in Irvington and Henry is arrested at a hotel in Pennsylvania. Authorities credit old-fashioned police work and tips from the public in helping to identify the suspects.
The Essex County Prosecutor s Office says that the Friedlands were targeted specifically for their Range Rover. The suspects are charged with murder, felony murder, carjacking, conspiracy, possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. All four have their bail set at $2 million.
Jan. 8, 2014
The four suspects face their first arraignment on their charges. All plead not guilty to the crimes.
March 14, 2014
Jamie Friedland files a wrongful death lawsuit against the owners of The Mall at Short Hill, alleging that the mall did not provide adequate security,
May 15, 2014
New Jersey lawmakers introduce a bill to make parking garages more accessible to emergency medical personnel. It is in response to Dustin Friedland s murder and the delay in medical assistance.
Sept. 22, 2014
The four men accused in Dustin Friedland s murder are indicted on the charges.
Oct. 22, 2014
The four suspects are arraigned a second time after they were formally indicted for Dustin Friedland s murder. All four again plead not guilty.
Nov. 13, 2014
Surveillance video of the suspect s alleged getaway vehicle at the mall three days prior to the murder released to the public.
July 10, 2015
Owners of The Mall at Short Hills ordered to release security documents regarding security expenses and prior criminal activity at the mall.
Oct. 23, 2015
Judge says Jamie Friedland can seek damages against the mall s owners in her wrongful death lawsuit.
Aug. 16, 2016
Superior court judge rules that the mall s insurance carrier must cover the costs of defending the property against Jamie Friedland s lawsuit. They must also pay any awards if the mall is found to be at fault in the case.
Feb. 27, 2017
Jury selection begins for the trial of the first suspect to be tried for the murder, Basim Henry
March 15, 2017
The trial of Basim Henry begins. Jamie Friedland testifies for the prosecution after opening arguments.