Times Square, typically one of the busiest areas of New York City, was completely blocked off to the public on Thursday afternoon following the crash.
Abdel Dosokey, 20, told the Guardian he was working in a falafel cart at Broadway and 43rd Street, on the east side of Times Square, when the auto crashed, sending pedestrians running and screaming.
Investigators look under a smashed vehicle that sits on the corner of Broadway and 45th Street in New York's Times Square after ploughing through a crowd of pedestrians at lunchtime on Thursday, May 18, 2017.
A man drove his auto at high speed onto a pavement in New York's Times Square on Thursday, killing one 18-year-old woman and injuring 22 other people.
The driver, a 26-year-old US Navy veteran, told officers he was hearing voices and expected to die, two police officials said.
Police say Rojas, 26, from the Bronx, drove his vehicle for three blocks into the Manhattan square at midday Thursday, hitting almost two dozen people before steel security barriers finally stopped him.
Alyssa Elsman, an 18-year-old girl visiting the popular tourist hotspot with her family died during the incident, with 22 others seriously injured.
Police said Rojas made a quick U-turn onto 42nd Street and drove up the sidewalk for three blocks, passing tourist draws like the Hard Rock Cafe and the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant and mowing people down before slamming into a pole.
The Planet Hollywood worker, Ken Bradix, told Associated Press: "He began screaming, no particular words but just utter screaming".
Rojas initially tested negative for alcohol, but more detailed testing was being carried out, according to two police officials.
The driver said he did not hear that but was told that later by investigating officers.
The carnage raised immediate fears of terrorism, fuddled by recent attacks in England, France and Germany in which vehicles ploughed through crowds of pedestrians.
"Out of an abundance of caution", Mayor Bill de Blasio added. Police said he pointed a kitchen knife at a notary who'd come over to do paperwork, and he accused the notary of stealing his identity. He pleaded guilty to an infraction in 2015 and was ordered to complete a drunken-driving programme and lost his licence for 90 days. In previous arrests, he told authorities he believed he was being harassed and followed, one of the law enforcement officials said.
According to the arrest report, Rojas said the cabbie had disrespected him by trying to charge too much.
Harrison Ramos, who lives in Mr Rojas's building in the Bronx, said: "He went through a real tough time".
Victims had no time to react and scramble for safety in crowded Times Square, said Alpha Balde, a sightseeing-ticket seller.
Rojas enlisted in the Navy in 2011 and was an electrician's mate fireman apprentice, according to the Navy. In 2012 he served aboard the USS Carney, a destroyer. Navy records show that in 2013 he spent two months at a naval brig in Charleston, South Carolina, but not indicate why.
Rojas was due to appear in Manhattan's criminal court on Friday to be arraigned on one count of second-degree murder, five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide and 20 counts of attempted murder.
He wasn't immediately available to comment.
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.
Bruno Carvalho, a student at State University of New York Albany, said the vehicle approached quickly and passed him on the sidewalk.