The driver who deliberately plowed his car into a crowd of holiday shoppers in Melbourne, Australia today is the latest in the disturbing list of vehicle attacks around the world. The attack instantly raised the specter of terrorism as police and emergency responders rushed to the chaotic scene outside Melbourne’s busy Flinders Street station. The New York Times reports that the iconic station neighborhood in the heart of Melbourne was crowded with people heading home from work and rushing to finish Christmas shopping.
CNN reported that the 32-year-old male driver was alone in his white Suzuki 4WD when he suddenly swerved to plow into the crowd of Melbourne commuters and shoppers, injuring 18 people. At least a dozen victims of the attack were admitted to the hospital, including a preschool child with head injuries.
Melbourne resident Federica Viezzoli, 40, was nearby when the attack happened. She said the vehicle started “smashing into people” on a crowded Flinders Street at the beginning of the evening commute. Those who couldn’t scramble out of the way “basically were just bumped into the air,” she said, visibly upset.
“I heard the noise of bones crushing. It was kind of terrible.”
20-year-old Lachlan Read was also in the area for the brief but terrifying 15-second incident.
“It was bang, bang, bang. The last bang the car stopped,” he said. “There were bodies on the ground and people running up to them – it was mayhem.”
A local off-duty policeman is being touted as Australia’s hero of the hour after his quick-thinking intervention prevented more carnage. The police officer, who Melbourne Premier Daniel Andrews described as “prime,” managed to wrench open the SUV door and drag the driver out despite suffering injuries himself. The off-duty police officer has not yet been publicly named and is receiving treatment for his injuries.
Videos posted on social media of the chaotic scene caught the moment when the off-duty officer went into action. The footage shows the driver, who is known to have mental health issues, being dragged out of the vehicle onto the roadway as people in the crowd try to help traumatized victims.
There are also glimpses of the man, who “appears to drift in and out of consciousness,” lying on the road while emergency responders restrain him and check his pulse.
Victoria Police chief Shane Patton said that the man resisted arrest and struggled to escape the police officers to the point that there was “somewhat of a fight between them.”
Melbourne police have announced that the suspect is an Australian citizen of Afghan descent who had a previous record. His previous offenses were minor, however, and there was no reason to expect such a savage attack on the public.
The Melbourne attack is attributed to the man’s mental illness, not to motives of terrorism, and Twitter is heating up with claims of terrorism despite the police statement.
The Belfast Telegraph wrote that the driver, who has not yet been identified publicly, was known to have a history of substance abuse as well as mental illness, and he was participating in a mental health treatment plan at the time of the attack.