NEW YORK (AP) — A man who went on a deadly rampage with a U-Haul truck Monday in New York City was suffering from an apparent mental health crisis and said he started mowing people down after seeing an “invisible object” coming toward him, police said Tuesday.
Weng Sor, 62, was charged Tuesday with murder and attempted murder in the attack, which unfolded over a harrowing 48 minutes over a large swath of Brooklyn’s bustling Bay Ridge neighborhood. Police eventually pinned the truck against a building after a miles-long chase.
One person was killed and eight people were injured as the U-Haul truck veered onto sidewalks and plowed into bicyclists, moped riders and at least one pedestrian, hitting people at various points along a circuitous route. The truck also rammed a police car, and the officer inside was among the injured.
The scope and length of the destruction led to questions about the NYPD’s response and whether the pursuit — which at one point involved a police car speeding after the U-Haul up onto the sidewalk as a man dove to safety — put more people in harm’s way.
Sor, a troubled man with a history of violence and mental illness, told police that seeing an “invisible object” set him off, Chief of Detectives James Essig told reporters Tuesday. Sor’s family said he’d stopped taking his medication, Essig said.
“He states when he’s driving his van he sees an ‘invisible object’ come towards the car. At that point, he says, ‘I’ve had enough’ and he goes on his rampage,” Essig said. “There was no object.”
Sor, who lived in Las Vegas with his mother, came to New York last week after spending time in Florida and was pulled over twice in the U-Haul in the days prior to the attack, police said. He was walked out of a police station and was expected to be arraigned late Tuesday or Wednesday. Court records did not list a lawyer who could comment on his behalf.
The U-Haul struck three people on mopeds, three people on bicycles, one person on an e-bike and one person who was on foot as the truck moved through a busy section of Brooklyn, just north of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge along New York Harbor, police said. The victims ranged in age from 30 to 66.
A 44-year-old man riding a moped died from a head injury after he was hit by the truck roughly a half hour after it struck the first victim. Mayor Eric Adams said the man, whose name has not been made public, was a single father “raising those children on his own.”
Mohammed Zakaria Salah Rakchi, 36, a delivery worker who emigrated from Algeria three years ago, was hit while running errands after dropping his 7-year-old daughter off at school. He suffered broken bones, including ribs, as well as other injuries and remained in a medically induced coma Tuesday.
A lawyer for Rakchi’s family, Derek Sells, questioned whether being chased by police “was a triggering event for this driver and what might have led him to do the things that he did.”
NYPD policy requires officers to stop chasing vehicles when the risks to police and the public “outweigh the danger to the community.”
Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said Tuesday that the department is reviewing its response. The NYPD later posted body camera video images to social media showing officers urgently clearing a street full of elementary school children near where the U-Haul was wreaking havoc.
Sor rented the U-Haul truck in West Palm Beach, Florida on Feb. 1, paying in advance for a 30-day rental. He remained there until Feb. 4, when he began driving north to Brooklyn, where his son and ex-wife live, Essig said.
On Feb. 5, Sor was pulled over in South Carolina and cited for reckless driving and marijuana possession. He arrived in Brooklyn the next day, surprising his son when he showed up at his door in the middle of the night.
Weng Sor’s son, Stephen Sor, 30, told The Associated Press that his father had a history of mental illness. Records show he was convicted and served time for multiple acts of violence, including stabbing his own brother.
“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.”
On Feb. 8, Essig said, police stopped Sor for speeding in the U-Haul on a Brooklyn highway where trucks and other commercial vehicles are prohibited. He was then spotted in New Jersey on Sunday, a day before the mayhem in Brooklyn, Essig said.
The chase with police ended Monday when a police cruiser cut off the winding route and blocked the truck against a building near the entrance to a tunnel leading from Brooklyn to Manhattan, more than 3 miles (5 kilometers) from where the chase began.
After Sor was stopped, Essig said he told police: “You should have shot me.”
Sor’s criminal history includes arrests for driving while intoxicated and evading a police officer in 2002 and multiple instances of battery.
In 2015, Weng Sor 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.
Before pleading guilty in that case, Sor was evaluated for several months at state psychiatric facilities before being found competent to face charges, court records show. The records don’t list any diagnosis, but note that Sor was placed on medications.
In an earlier Nevada case, he was ordered to undergo counseling and perform community service after pleading guilty to misdemeanor battery in 2005. The judge noted at the time that Sor was moving to New York and ordered him to submit to a mental health evaluation once he arrived.
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