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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Man in U-Haul mows down 8 people in New York ‘rampage,’ killing 1

Police examine a U-Haul rental truck after the driver was arrested in New York, Feb. 13, 2023.

By Karen Zraick, Maria Cramer and Hurubie Meko

A man driving a U-Haul truck cut a violent swath across Brooklyn on Monday morning, careening through Bay Ridge and Sunset Park, over sidewalks and into bicycles, killing one person before police finally caught up with the driver.

The driver struck nine people in all, according to police, as horrified residents looked on.

The episode, described as a “rampage” by Keechant Sewell, the police commissioner, began in the late morning. The driver tore through the bustling neighborhoods, which are nestled in the southwest portion of the borough.

Police were investigating eight locations where people were hit and where the man in the truck was ultimately apprehended. Sidewalks were cordoned off by yellow police tape as people, alarmed and shaken, swapped stories of what they had heard and seen.

Police had not publicly named the driver by Monday afternoon. But three senior law enforcement officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said his name was Weng Sor.

Sor, who is in his early 60s, according to one of the officials, had encounters with police before the pandemic began, during which officers noted he appeared to be “emotionally disturbed.” Investigators believe he may have spent some of the past month living in the U-Haul truck.

The man was first stopped by officers around 10:50 a.m. Monday, after he had already hit at least one person with the truck, Sewell said.

He then fled in the truck and kept driving, hitting more people before being arrested several miles away on Columbia Street and Hamilton Avenue, near the entrance to the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel.

Seven men, ranging in ages from 30 to 66, and one police officer were hospitalized with injuries, authorities said. One of the men, who was 44, died from his injuries, according to police. Three of the people struck were on bikes. The officer was in stable condition with an injured leg, police said. Police did not identify the man who died, pending notification of his relatives.

Sewell said there was no indication that terrorism was involved. She declined to speculate on a possible motive.

Officers found clothing, bags, pieces of cardboard, strewn water bottles and empty Styrofoam coffee cups inside the truck, one of the officials said.

The truck was legally rented in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Feb. 1, a spokesperson for U-Haul said. The rental, which was paid for in advance, was for a 30-day period; the truck was supposed to be returned in Florida on March 3.

Police officers went in and out of the home of Sor’s ex-wife, which is within walking distance of many of the collisions, on Monday afternoon. At one point, a woman and young man left with officers, ducking down to avoid television cameras as they hurried into a police car.

Sor’s son, Stephen Sor, told The Associated Press in an interview outside the home that he rarely spoke to his father, who had been living in Las Vegas and who he said had a history of mental illness and going off his medication.

“I try to just distance, as long as he leaves us alone,” the son said.

Weng Sor had an extensive record in criminal court in Clark County, Nevada.

In October 2015, he was charged with battery with substantial bodily harm and pleaded guilty a month later, according to records. About a year later, while he was on probation, he was ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation and was directed to Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services for treatment.

During that time, Sor was charged again with attempted battery with substantial bodily harm, according to court records. In July 2017, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one to three years in prison in Nevada.

After his release, in November 2020, he was charged with conspiracy to commit battery for striking a person and was held in jail as his case wound through the courts. He pleaded guilty in September 2021 and served two more months in jail before he was released.

Justin Brannan, a City Council member who represents Bay Ridge, said in a phone interview that on Monday morning his office began getting calls about someone “driving violently through the neighborhood” like a “maniac.”

In an interview with NY1, he added: “This driver knew what he was doing, knew that he was hitting people.”

One of the collisions occurred where Bay Ridge Parkway — a thoroughfare known as Doctors’ Row — meets Fifth Avenue, a busy intersection with a bike lane and bus routes, dotted with many banks and businesses.

Staff members at a Coldwell Banker real estate office on that corner said they had heard a commotion that sounded like a truck dragging something, perhaps a muffler. But when they ran out of the building, they saw a man who appeared to be in his 30s lying in the eastbound lanes of the parkway. Police said late Monday that the victim in that collision had died.

Amanda Perez, 39, an employee of the real estate agency, called 911 and a volunteer ambulance service several times but couldn’t get through.

“I was shocked,” she said. “It was a horror to see him in that condition and think someone can flee the scene. It’s devastating.”

Martín Taveras, 62, owns Latin Comm, a shop that sells cellphone accessories and helps send money and packages to Latin America, near the corner of 54th Street and Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park. A recently installed bike lane runs between the sidewalk and a row of parked cars.

On Monday morning, Taveras said he saw the man drive the truck into the bike lane, seeming to aim at a cyclist. The truck ran over the man with its front and back wheels before returning to the traffic lanes, around parked cars, he said. The driver then doubled back toward the bike lane, heading toward another cyclist who was able to escape, before accelerating and heading north on Fourth Avenue.

“It was horrible to see this,” Taveras said. “It was a criminal act. I saw his face, it looked like a demon’s face.”

On Monday afternoon, police officers were reviewing security footage from Leader Halal Market, at Fifth Avenue and Senator Street in Bay Ridge, that captured one of the collisions.

Amira Hegab, 40, had arrived at work at the market at 10 a.m. and said she heard a commotion about a half-hour later. When Hegab rushed outside, she saw a young man who seemed badly injured on the street. He was quickly taken away by an ambulance.

“I feel so sorry for him,” she said. “It’s madness.”

A few blocks away, on 72nd Street and Third Avenue, Lilia Gomez, 34, was sitting inside a McDonald’s drinking coffee with a friend when they saw the truck barreling down the street. They rushed outside and saw a man trapped underneath an e-bike, conscious but unable to move.

Police said the man, 32, had injuries to his head and torso, and a 33-year-old police officer sustained leg injuries a the same location. A 66-year-old man was also hit a block south and suffered neck and knee injuries. All three were taken to a local hospital in stable condition.

Parts of the bike were strewn all over the street.

Gomez said she saw emergency workers helping to free the man on the e-bike and place him in an ambulance. She described Bay Ridge as a quiet neighborhood of immigrants, many of them Arab.

“It’s a very peaceful place,” Gomez said. “I think I’m going to get my kids from school, because I am a little scared by what happened. You don’t see this in Bay Ridge.”

On the same block, Abdul Algumaei was about to step outside the smoke shop where he worked when he saw the driver crash into the man on the bike. Then, he said, the driver tore down the sidewalk in front of his store, followed by police officers who also drove their car on the sidewalk.

Algumaei, 26, who avoided the vehicles, said he was “shaking.”

“I’m always sitting out there in my chair,” he said.

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