MANHATTAN (CN) – Joined by a handful of survivors, the father of the young tourist who was killed in Times Square last year by a car that sped for three blocks on the sidewalk brought a lawsuit Tuesday against the arrested driver and the city.
Alyssa Elsman, 18, of Portage, Michigan, was the only fatality of the carnage that visited New York on May 18, 2017, when U.S. Navy veteran Richard Rojas mowed down at least 22 pedestrians after driving his red Honda the wrong way up Seventh Avenue.
Having reportedly told police that he smoked PCP-laced marijuana before getting behind the wheel, 27-year-old Rojas was indicted in Manhattan Criminal Court and has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and attempted murder.
Among the survivors of the attack was Elsman’s 13-year-old sister Ava. Joined by four survivors and two of their spouses, the girls’ father, Thomas Elsman, is the lead plaintiff of a complaint filed in Manhattan Supreme Court.
“They’re coping,” said Sobo & Sobo attorney Gregory Sobo, who is representing the Elsman family and the other survivors in the July 31 action. “The one-year anniversary just passed, so I know that was a tough time. But aside from the emotional struggle, [Thomas has] definitely got a side of anger, which seems to be somewhat, frankly, compounded by the city’s ambivalence to the claims so far.”
The complaint alleges 11 counts including wrongful death and negligence saying New York City had a duty to “completely restrict vehicular travel in Times Square,” and that it should have installed structures or road blocks that would have prevented “a vehicle from entering, striking, and severely injuring innocent pedestrians.”
“Moreover,” the complaint states, “it is claimed that New York City knew that pedestrians in this area were targeted previously, and remained a target, for criminal activity and terrorist acts, yet the city failed to provide reasonable and expected protection and security from such criminal activity and terrorist acts.”
The complaint cites a 2007 study that found the city had not made enough use of concrete bollards to protect pedestrians, despite its knowledge that terrorists around the world drive vehicles into crowds of people as a tactic.
Five months after the Rojas crash, eight people were killed and 12 were injured on a bike along Manhattan’s West Side Highway in an attack that federal prosectors have linked to the Islamic State group.
To protect pedestrians from vehicles, New York City plans to shell out $150 million to install approximately 4,500 barriers, including bollards and gates. All bollards are expected to be installed between 42nd and 46th streets by 2018, while sidewalk restoration is slated for completion in spring 2019.
“The city and NYPD have already installed numerous concrete blocks and jersey barriers at several sensitive locations around the city, to provide protection in advance of the bollard installations,” city spokesman Seth Stein said in an email. “Bollard placements and construction are underway now and on schedule.”
As for the complaint, Kimberly Joyce, a spokeswoman for the city’s law department, said they will “respond accordingly” once they have reviewed the complaint.