(Repeating to fix slugline)
By Jonathan Spicer
NEW YORK May 18 The driver of the car that
careened through New York City's Times Square on Thursday was a
U.S. Navy veteran who had been arrested at least four times
before for offenses including drunk driving and threatening
someone with a knife, according to police officials and public
Richard Rojas, 26, plowed into people on the sidewalk in his
burgundy Honda sedan and sped three blocks through one of the
city's busiest areas, killing one pedestrian and injuring 22
others before crashing into a metal stanchion, police said.
Rojas returned from his Navy service with a drinking problem
and had posted "crazy stuff" on social media, said a friend,
Harrison Ramos, speaking to Reuters outside the apartment
building where Rojas lives in New York City's Bronx borough.
"Don't make him out to be a terrorist or something," Ramos
said. "He served his country and when he came back, nobody
Rojas attended college and works in real estate, Ramos said.
"He went through a real tough time," Ramos said, adding that
he had lost contact with Rojas. "That's my friend. I care about
him, and it hurts."
Only a week ago, Rojas was arrested at his apartment in the
Bronx for threatening another man with a knife.
"Do you feel safe? You stole my identity," Rojas told the
man, grabbing his neck in one hand while brandishing the knife
in the other, according to a police spokeswoman. She did not
have additional details about the incident.
He was charged with menacing and possession of a weapon,
according to court records. He eventually pleaded guilty to
harassment, a violation, and was not sentenced to any prison
Rojas was also charged with drunken driving in 2008 and
2015, according to New York City police. The state motor vehicle
department confirmed he was convicted of driving while impaired
in both cases but still had a valid driver's license as of
As of 5 p.m. (2110 GMT) on Thursday, police had not yet
announced formal charges against Rojas in the Times Square
incident, and he had not yet appeared in court. It was not
immediately clear whether Rojas had a defense lawyer.
Rojas enlisted in the Navy in 2011. He served as an
electrician's mate fireman apprentice, mostly based in Florida.
While stationed in Jacksonville, Rojas was arrested for
battery and resisting an officer without violence, both
An arrest report from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said
Rojas yelled at an officer, "My life is over," and threatened to
kill police after his release from jail. He also told the
officer that he had beaten a cab driver to whom he owed money
and had been drinking at the time of the arrest, according to
Court records indicate the charges may have been dropped.
Navy records show he spent two months in a military prison
in Charleston, South Carolina, in the summer of 2013 but do not
He left the service in May 2014, according to records, which
do not offer any additional details.
A few hours after the Times Square incident, about 20 police
officers and detectives occupied the sidewalk outside the
six-story red brick building where Rojas lives.
A woman who used to live in the building, Fati Razak, said
she occasionally sees Rojas when she returns to visit her
"We don't have anything in common except to say 'hi,'" said
Razak, who works as a hairdresser next door. She said Rojas'
family is Dominican and that his mother is a "sweetheart" who
sometimes makes food or coffee for the beauty salon's workers.
(Additional reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida, and
Joseph Ax in New York; Writing by Joseph Ax; Editing by Daniel
Trotta and Jonathan Oatis)