Utah woman in Times Square: ‘It was crazy, seeing the car…sideways, on 2 wheels’

A driver in a Honda Accord jumped the curb and plowed through the crowds in Times Square in New York City at about noon Thursday, May 18, 2017, killing one person and seriously injuring 22 others. The vehicle didn't stop until it crashed into bollards on the sidewalk and burst into flames. Photo: Gephardt Daily/ Shantal Van Wagoner

NEW YORK CITY, May 18, 2017 (Gephardt Daily) — Shantal Van Wagoner expected her first trip to New York to be an adventure, but nothing could have prepared her for what she heard when she landed at JFK International on Thursday.

“Everyone was talking about the ‘attack,'” she told Gephardt Daily. “We were told to look it up on CNN.”

The “attack” turned out to be an impaired driver who plowed through the crowd in Times Square, killing one person and injuring 22 others. The deceased was an 18-year-old woman from Michigan, the New York Times reported.

Officials identified Richard Rojas, 26, a Navy veteran, as the driver of the Honda Accord that careened over a curb, picking up speed and running into and over people as it hurtled for several blocks down Seventh Avenue. Rojas reportedly has a history of arrests for drunken driving. People at the scene weren’t sure if he was drunk or on drugs. CNN later reported that Rojas had tested positive for PCP.

Officials wanted everyone to understand that, despite the carnage, it wasn’t a deliberate act of terrorism.

The incident began at about noon, and the street was still blocked 12 hours later.

“We were supposed to get to the hotel around 5:45 p.m.,” Van Wagoner said. “It took about two hours to get from JFK to the hotel, and the crash was right in front of the hotel.

“There were so many people in the street, standing around, taking pictures. It was crazy, seeing the car — it was sideways and on two wheels.”

The police had the street barricaded and were directing tourists, gawkers and city residents around the ghastly scene. Just getting into the hotel was difficult.

“We walked around the block, through a building to find the right street again, and then we had to go in the back of the hotel,” Van Wagoner said. “It caused problems for a lot of people, having trouble getting into the hotel. And Fed Ex and deliveries couldn’t get through, so they’re a day behind.”

Van Wagoner said that Rojas tried to flee the crash scene, but police and civilians tackled him as he was running away. He was quickly taken into custody.

The Utah woman is in New York on business, to attend a Women’s Expo on Saturday. She is an independent distributor for LipSense by SeneGence.

Initially Van Wagoner planned to fly in on Friday, but “the flights were messed up — they were full.” So she took the Thursday flight for a trip she’ll remember for a long time.

“It’s definitely been an experience,” she said. “I’m very happy we didn’t get here earlier.”

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