A man driving a U-Haul truck swerved onto sidewalks and plowed into scooter riders in New York City on Monday, injuring multiple people before police were able to pin the careening vehicle against a building following a miles-long pursuit through Brooklyn.
At least eight people were hurt, two critically. The driver was arrested. His son identified him as Weng Sor, 62, a troubled man with a history of violence and stints behind bars.
New York City Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell described the driver’s behaviour as a “violent rampage,” but said there was no evidence of “terrorism involvement.”
The truck sped through the Bay Ridge neighbourhood before police stopped it more than 3 miles (5 kilometres) away, near the entrance to a tunnel leading from Brooklyn to Manhattan.
Weng Sor’s son, Stephen Sor, 30, told The Associated Press that his father had a history of mental illness and, until recently, was living in Las Vegas.
“Very frequently he’ll choose to skip out on his medications and do something like this,” Stephen Sor said in an interview outside his Brooklyn home. “This isn’t the first time he’s been arrested. It’s not the first time he’s gone to jail.”
The first report of a truck crashing into pedestrians and cyclists came in at 10:30 a.m., police said, and other reports followed as the vehicle moved through a busy section of Brooklyn.
Katherine Aronova said she saw the U-Haul run a red light, hit a delivery worker on an e-bike in the middle of the road and drag him a short distance.
“His face was covered with blood. He was unconscious,” and his shoes were scattered on the sidewalk, Aronova said. “The electric bicycle was destroyed completely.”
A security camera video showed the truck clip a scooter, then swerve onto a sidewalk and nearly plow into a pedestrian, who dived to safety just in time. A police patrol car then followed the truck down the sidewalk at high speed.
“I was in shock and didn’t know what was happening until I saw the police patrol was chasing it,” a witness, Andrea Vasquez, said in Spanish. “Thank God that man saved himself,” she added of the person who narrowly escaped.
Aerial video from news helicopters showed the truck on a sidewalk after the chase ended, its path blocked by a police cruiser. Authorities examined the vehicle to make sure it didn’t contain explosives.
Sewell said a police officer responding to the incident was among the injured.
Bay Ridge, a melting pot of immigrants from Europe, Asia and the Middle East, sits just north of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge along New York Harbor.
It’s popularly known as the setting of the 1977 John Travolta film “Saturday Night Fever,” and as the home of the police commissioner played by Tom Selleck on TV’s “Blue Bloods.” Each fall, it hosts a leg of the New York City Marathon.
Stephen Sor described his relationship with his father as “rocky,” and said his father had a history of mental illness, as well as not taking medications and acting out. He said he didn’t speak to his father often and was surprised when he showed up in Brooklyn in the middle of the night about a week ago.
“I try to just distance, as long as he leaves us alone,” Sor said.
Weng Sor’s criminal records date back nearly two decades.
In 2015, he stabbed his brother in Las Vegas and served about 17 months in a Nevada prison, according to court and prison records. In 2020, he stabbed someone in the arm and chest with a knife and was sentenced to 364 days in county jail, with about 10 months of time already served.
Before pleading guilty in that case, Sor underwent several months of evaluations at state psychiatric facilities until he was found competent to face charges, court records show. The records don’t list a possible diagnosis, but note that Sor was placed on medications.
In an earlier Nevada case, Sor was ordered to undergo counselling and perform community service after pleading guilty to misdemeanour battery in 2005. The judge noted that he was soon moving to New York and ordered him to submit to a mental health evaluation once there.