NEW YORK (Reuters) - Street vendors in New York’s Times Square are as ubiquitous as yellow taxis, but on Sunday some of those traders were being called heroes after alerting police to a smoking vehicle that turned out to be a failed car bomb.
Vendor Lance Orton, a Vietnam veteran, is being credited by local authorities and media with tipping mounted policeman Wayne Rhatigan about a suspicious Nissan sport utility vehicle on West 45th Street near Broadway on Saturday evening.
Several other vendors on that street corner also spotted the car and said they scrambled to tell the police.
“My brother told me this car has had smoke in it for a long time. Call 911,” said Mohamate Niasse, 52, where was back in his stall in Times Square after the incident, alongside his brother Ali, selling pictures of the city.
Niasse, who lives in Harlem and has sold his wares in the busy midtown Manhattan district for six years, said Orton then told them he had already sent someone to alert the police.
“I thought there might have been someone in the car sleeping, so I went over there but I couldn’t see anything,” he said.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised Orton and Rhatigan on Sunday and had dinner with Rhatigan in Times Square. Orton — who was reluctant to speak to the media — had been unable to join them, Bloomberg said.
“Lance Orton saw something and did something about it,” the mayor said.
Rhatigan, who smelled gun powder and realized the smoking car was something more sinister, said he was simply doing his job.
“It’s just what we do,” he told reporters. “As I was by the car I asked a couple of vendors ‘Is this your car?’ and they said ‘Nah, we don’t know whose this is.’”
Duane Jackson, another Vietnam vet who said he helped alert police, was back selling handbags and T-shirts across the road from where the vehicle carrying the bomb had been parked.
“There are a bunch of us disabled vets selling here, and we’re used to being vigilant because we all know that freedom isn’t free,” Jackson, 58, told The New York Times. “All of us vets here are the eyes and ears for the cops.”
Reporting by Michelle Nichols, editing by Chris Wilson