PORTAGE, Mich. (WOOD) — The only person killed when a car barreled into a crowd in New York City’s Times Square was 18-year-old Alyssa Elsman of Portage, police say.
The crash happened midday Thursday. The New York Police Department says the driver drove along the sidewalk for at least three blocks, hitting pedestrians as he went. Twenty-two people were hurt — one of them Elsman’s 13-year-old sister.
Friends said the sisters and their mother were visiting New York along with a friend. Many began learning the news around 4 p.m. Thursday.
They recalled Alyssa Elsman as fun and supportive of those lucky enough to know her.
“She was so full of life. She could walk into a room and everybody would just be happy to see her. She was one of those people that everyone wanted to be around no matter what situation. Alyssa was always the person you could just go to,” Kaedon Layne told 24 Hour News 8.
Elsman graduated from Portage Central High School in 2016. She attended Western Michigan University last fall before transferring to Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
“Alyssa was a really thoughtful, really bright, very pleasant young lady that every interaction I had with her was positive,” Portage Central High School Principal Eric Alburtus said. “I’m kind of struggling with the whole thing, to be honest with you.”
Alburtus said grief counselors would be at the school on Friday.
“They’re at the standby to make sure that at a moment’s notice, if we have a lot of kids who are working through it, they’ll be here and some of them will be here first thing in the morning,” Alburtus said.
A district spokesperson said that many students didn’t know about what happened to Elsman when they got out of school.
Elsman’s 13-year-old sister, Ava, goes to Central Middle School.
The driver who hit the pedestrians, 26-year-old Richard Rojas, was arrested. Police are looking into whether he was driving under the influence of drugs and say charges are pending. NYPD says Rojas has two previous drunken driving arrests.
The Associated Press reports he is a veteran of the U.S. Navy from the Bronx.
Police say they do not currently believe the crash was in any way linked to terrorism.
24 Hour News 8’s Brady Gillum and Lynsey Mukomel contributed to this report.