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Driver in Times Square crash that killed teen 'had been hearing voices'

By Colleen Long and Tom Hays

An 18-year-old woman killed by a car that barrelled down a pavement in New York's Times Square was a tourist, police said.

Alyssa Elsman, from Portage, Michigan, died, and 23 people were struck before the car was stopped by a security barrier.

Police said that the woman's 13-year-old sister was among the injured.

The driver, a 26-year-old US Navy veteran, told officers he was hearing voices and expected to die, two police officials said.

Helpless pedestrians had little time to react as the car went the wrong way up the pavement before smashing into a row of steel security barriers which had been installed in recent years to prevent vehicle attacks on the square. The car came to rest with its two right wheels in the air.

"He didn't stop," said Asa Lowe, who was standing outside a store when he heard screaming as people scattered. "He just kept going."

The carnage raised immediate fears of terrorism, fuelled by recent attacks in England, France and Germany in which vehicles ploughed through crowds of pedestrians. But investigators quickly turned their focus to the sobriety and mental health of the driver, who was identified as Bronx resident Richard Rojas.

"There is no indication that this was an act of terrorism," Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Photographers snapped pictures of Rojas after he climbed from the wrecked car and ran down the street before he was tackled by a group that included a ticket seller and a muscular door supervisor at a nearby Planet Hollywood restaurant.

Rojas initially tested negative for alcohol, but more detailed testing was being carried out. They said Rojas told officers he had been hearing voices.

A week ago Rojas was arrested and charged with pointing a knife at a notary, whom he accused of stealing his identity. He pleaded guilty to a harassment violation. He was arrested on charges of driving while intoxicated in 2008 and 2015.

He pleaded guilty to an infraction in 2015 and was ordered to complete a drunken-driving programme.

In previous arrests, he told authorities he believed he was being harassed and followed.

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