Trial Of Man High On PCP Who Killed A Woman, Injured 22 With His Car Begins In New York

By Eliana Regev | Friday, 13 May 2022 20:30
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The man behind the car wheel that escaped through crowds of pedestrians in New York City’s Times Square, murdering a woman and injuring 22 other people, is finally headed to trial after several delays over five years, including pandemic-induced court shutdowns.

Opening statements are expected Monday in the trial of Richard Rojas, a 31-year-old U.S. Navy veteran who informed police after his arrest that he had been smoking marijuana laced with the hallucinogenic drug PCP before pushing through helpless tourists in 2017 at the Manhattan landmark known as “the crossroads of the world.”

Alyssa Elsman, an 18-year-old from Portage, Michigan, was slain on an annual family trip. Her 13-year-old sister, Ava, was among the harmed. Jessica Williams, of Dunellen, New Jersey, was so severely hurt that her mother had to accept the diploma at her high school graduation while she stayed in the hospital.

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Rojas’ trial, in state court in Manhattan, is foreseen to take several months. Prosecutors say Rojas drove his car from the Bronx, where he lived with his mother, through Times Square on May 18, 2017, then made a U-turn, steered his car onto a sidewalk, and roared back up the sidewalk for three blocks before he smashed his car into protective barriers.

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Photographers captured pictures of a wild-eyed Rojas after he rose from the wrecked car and sprinted through the street waving his arms. PCP, or phencyclidine, can cause users to become delusional, violent, or suicidal, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center.

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According to prosecutors, Rojas expressed he wanted to “kill them all.”

Rojas claimed to be not guilty at an arraignment in 2017 and has since been detained at New York City’s notorious Rikers Island jail complex. His lawyer stated at the time that it was a “terrible thing that happened” in Times Square.

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“But how we handle this type of a case will determine how civilized of a society we are,” stated defense attorney Enrico DeMarco.

Rojas has several previous criminal cases that paint a picture of a troubled man. Days before the Times Square incident he pleaded guilty to a harassment charge in the Bronx for pulling a knife on a notary in his home and blaming the person for trying to steal his identity.

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He also had two previous drunken driving cases.

Rojas enlisted in the Navy in 2011 and served for part of 2012 aboard the USS Carney, a destroyer. Rojas spent his final months in the Navy at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida.

In 2012, he was apprehended and accused of abusing a cab driver whom he said had disdained him by trying to charge too much, according to the arrest statement. The arresting officer expressed Rojas screamed, “My life is over!” as he was being jailed. After his arrest, Rojas told the officer he would kill all police and military police he might see after his release from jail, the Jacksonville sheriff’s office report stated.

Alan Ceballos, an attorney who represented Rojas in that case, said the state charges were dropped after the military stepped in to take jurisdiction over the criminal case. Navy records show that in 2013 Rojas spent two months at a naval prison in Charleston, South Carolina. He was discharged in 2014 as the result of a special court-martial, a Navy official said.

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