He was swinging his arms at the same time, said Ken Bradix, a security supervisor at a nearby Planet Hollywood restaurant who tackled Rojas.
Although the incident is reminiscent of the recent terror attacks in London, Stockholm, Israel and Nice in France, New York mayor Bill de Blasio has ruled out the terror angle in this case.
A week ago he was arrested and charged with pointing a knife at a notary, who he accused of stealing his identity. He pleaded guilty to harassment, a violation, and was not sentenced to any prison time. Law enforcement sources said they believe he had smoked synthetic marijuana (K2) prior to the crash - causing him to be extremely impaired.
Rojas returned from his Navy service with a drinking problem and had posted "crazy stuff" on social media, said a friend, Harrison Ramos, speaking to Reuters outside the apartment building where Rojas lives in New York City's Bronx borough. Police initially considered it as a case of drunken driving, but his initial tests were negative for alcohol.
Annette Proehl of Pennsylvania was in Times Square with children on a field trip when she heard the screeching tires of the vehicle and people screaming.
Rojas, who according to Navy record was enlisted in September 2011, has been embroiled in several legal cases in the past.
He served at Naval Air Station Jacksonville and Naval Station Mayport from August 2012 to May 2014. They do not indicate why. The circumstances surrounding the court-martial were not immediately available.
Thursday's mayhem began at noon on a hot, clear day that brought large crowds of people into the streets to enjoy the good weather.
"People just got stunned", said Bruno Carvalho, a student at SUNY Albany.
The sidewalks in many parts of Times Square and surrounding blocks are lined with metal posts created to prevent cars from getting onto the sidewalks and other public areas. "I heard the bang, and saw someone jump out of the auto and hit a policeman", said a 39-year-old woman who would only identify herself as Louise.
Elsman was a 2016 graduate of Portage Central High School.
"Alyssa was the type of person who seemed very shy and reserved when you first met her, but once you started talking to her you realized she was smart, amusing and engaging", principal Eric Alburtus said in a statement. "But if you could talk to her for a minute, you'd realise she was engaging".