NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy veteran charged with killing a young woman and injuring 20 others by speeding down a crowded Times Square sidewalk in his car said in published remarks on Saturday that he had sought psychiatric care beforehand, to no avail.
“I was trying to get help,” Richard Rojas, 26, was quoted as telling the New York Post in a tearful jailhouse interview two days after the carnage in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. “I wanted to fix my life. I wanted to get a job. Get a girlfriend.”
According to the Post, Rojas said he had recently spoken to a mental health counselor at a local veterans center who promised to call him on Monday. “Monday hasn’t come yet,” he added.
On Thursday Rojas climbed behind the wheel of his Honda sedan and drove down Seventh Avenue, then careened onto the sidewalk, mowing down frantic pedestrians in his path for three city blocks before crashing. He was subdued by onlookers and police as he tried to flee on foot.
He has been charged with second-degree murder, vehicular homicide and multiple counts of attempted murder.
Rojas said he had no recollection of the Times Square incident, but recounted having a sandwich to eat with his mother Thursday morning before deciding to take a drive.
“I wanted to clear my head,” he told the newspaper. “The last thing I remember is driving in my car. Then, I woke up in the (police) precinct. ... I was terrified.”
A police source has told Reuters that Rojas is believed to have been under the influence of some intoxicating substance, and ABC News has cited law enforcement sources as saying he apparently was high on synthetic marijuana.
“I guess it was laced with something,” Rojas told the Post.
Navy and public court records show Rojas has had numerous run-ins with the law over the past decade, with at least four prior arrests, two for drunken driving, and one just last week for allegedly threatening another man with a knife outside his apartment in New York City’s Bronx borough.
While serving in the Navy in 2013, he spent two months in a military brig in South Carolina, though records do not indicate why.
One friend who spoke with Reuters shortly after Thursday’s incident in Times Square described Rojas as someone who returned from his Navy service with a drinking problem and other personal difficulties but got no help.
(This version of the story fixes typo in lead paragraph)
Reporting by Frank McGurty in New York; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by SImon Cameron-Moore