Accused Times Square driver’s troubled past included Navy prison

By Jonathan Spicer

NEW YORK (Reuters) – 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 records.

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 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 helped him.”

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.

He was charged with menacing and possession of a weapon, according to court records. He pleaded guilty to harassment, a violation, and was not sentenced to any prison time.

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 Thursday.

In the Times Square incident, Rojas was charged with one count of murder in the second degree, aggravated vehicular homicide…

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