A Bronx man suspected in Thursday’s deadly drive through Times Square was kicked out of the Navy three years ago and suffered from alcohol abuse and emotional problems, according to neighbors and military sources.
Richard Rojas, 26, has lived with his mother in an apartment on Walton Avenue since the Navy imposed its most punitive sanction possible short of a court martial — a less-than-honorable discharge — in May 2014, a Pentagon source said.
Rojas enlisted in the service in July 2011 and spent six months on the destroyer USS Carney in 2012 while the ship conducted pirate interdiction operations off the Horn of Africa, naval records show.
After leaving his post on the USS Carney, Rojas was sent to the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida, Navy records show. His job classification was that of electrician’s mate fireman apprentice, the records show.
In 2013, Rojas served two months in a military prison in Charleston, South Carolina, according to the records.
Harrison Ramos, 30, a resident of the same building as Rojas, said his neighbor had struggled with alcohol since his Navy discharge.
“He did not come back normal,” Ramos said of Rojas’s return to civilian life. “ . . . when he got back from serving, that’s when he had started drinking a lot.”
Rojas had dilated pupils — common after a brain injury or drug or alcohol use — and was raving as detectives questioned him in connection with the fatal crash, said a law enforcement source. Police were getting a search warrant to do a blood test for drugs.
Another police source said investigators ruled out alcohol as a cause of the crash. .
While investigators were uncertain late Thursday whether Rojas was under the influence of drugs at the time of the crash, an NYPD source shot down early reports he had taken K2, a potent version of synthetic marijuana that can cause irrational behavior.
Officials said Rojas’s criminal record included an arrest earlier this month in the Bronx for allegedly threatening a notary with a knife who had come to get his signature on financial documents. Rojas gripped the notary’s neck with his left hand while clutching a knife in his right and said “You’re trying to steal my identity,” according to Bronx court records and a law enforcement source.
Rojas pleaded guilty to a charge of harassment in the second degree, a violation, and was given a conditional discharge, the law enforcement source said.
Other neighbors on the narrow stretch of Walton Avenue where Rojas lived described him friendly and shy but also somewhat unstable recently. Rojas’s car had been repossessed, said neighbor Jose Mederano, adding that he got it back Wednesday night. It was unknown if that car was the one Rojas allegedly drove into Times Square Thursday.
With Martin C. Evans