Car crashes into a Berlin crowd, killing 1 and injuring a dozen
By Christopher F. Schuetze and Melissa Eddy
A car plowed into a crowd of people on a busy Berlin sidewalk on Wednesday, killing a female teacher on a school trip to Berlin and injuring a dozen others, including several teenagers, before crashing into the window of a store near the site of a devastating 2016 terrorist attack, police said.
Five of the victims have life-threatening injuries, a Fire Department spokesman said.
The police have arrested the driver of the car, who they say is a 29-year-old German man of Armenian origin who lives in Berlin, and started an investigation into whether the crash was accidental or intentional.
“Part of the reconstruction of the event, of course, is to look at the extent to which this was an intentional act or a traffic accident that may have occurred because of an exceptional medical situation,” Thilo Cablitz, a Berlin police spokesman, told reporters on the scene.
Cablitz, who confirmed the casualty numbers, said passersby had apprehended the driver. He was then taken into custody by police, who know no motive at this time, Cablitz said. The police said on Twitter that 130 rescue workers were on-site.
Referring to the 2016 attack, Cablitz said: “It is a wound that still gapes in the heart of the city. Everyone remembers it.” He added that the police had since then increased security and their response tactics, although he declined to elaborate.
The crash occurred at 10:26 a.m. on a street in a busy shopping district in the west of the German capital, according to initial police reports. The driver first drove onto a sidewalk and into a crowd, then back onto the street, only to drive back onto the sidewalk and into the front of a store, according to witness accounts.
“The crime scene stretches over two blocks, about 200 to 300 meters,” said Adrian Wentzel, a spokesman for the Berlin fire brigade.
According to news reports and photographs taken at the scene, the car, a Renault Clio with Berlin license plates, stopped moving after it crashed into the window of the store.
The police used Twitter to ask witnesses for video recordings or photographs to help them with the investigation. They also asked witnesses not to circulate images of the investigation.
Several fire trucks and many firefighters were visible at the scene, with helicopters circling overhead. The police quickly roped off the area, which was near the location of a terrorist attack on a Christmas market in 2016.
The square has since been reinforced to safeguard it and protect the large numbers of people who pass through it every day. A medevac helicopter was seen lifting off from the area, normally a packed square filled with shoppers.
John Barrowman, a presenter and actor who has appeared on the television series “Doctor Who,” was on vacation in Berlin and browsing a store near where the incident occurred.
In a series of social media updates from the scene, Barrowman described seeing a body on the ground and injured people limping. Sirens could be heard blaring in the background as he showed emergency vehicles parked on the street in one update, and a helicopter in another.
“The police presence is unbelievable. They are clearing out the area,” he said in one of the videos posted on Twitter. “I heard the bang and the crash when we were in a store and then we came out and we just saw the carnage,” he said.
The woman killed was a schoolteacher from the western state of Hesse who was in Berlin with her 10th grade class, Iris Spranger, a Berlin senator who oversees the police, said at a news conference. Although the police did not release the names of the injured before they had a chance to alert their families, they did say several teenagers were among them.
“We are shocked that an incident has occurred that brings back bad memories in all of us,” Franziska Giffey, Berlin’s mayor, said during the same news conference, referring to the attack that took place in 2016 only yards from where she spoke.
In the 2016 terrorist attack, 12 people were killed by an attacker who stole a truck and plowed it into a crowd of people. The attacker was later killed in a shootout with police in Italy.
According to the tabloid Bild, police found a letter of confession in the car but did not provide further details. The police, who did not confirm or deny the existence of the letter, said that the driver was being treated in a hospital.
In 2018, two people were killed after the driver of a small truck crashed into a group of people in the heart of Münster’s old city, in western Germany. The driver killed himself in the cab of the truck immediately after the crash.
Two years later, five people were killed after a drunk 51-year-old German man zigzagged his SUV for about a half-mile through a busy pedestrian shopping street lined with shops in the city of Trier, in the southwestern part of the country. Authorities said the man did not appear to be motivated by political or religious beliefs.