Authorities have identified a suspect in thein Rochester, New York, as a 35-year-old man from the Syracuse area. They announced at a news conference Tuesday that the suspect died Monday night.
The fiery two-vehicle collision in Rochester killed two other people and injured at least nine early on New Year’s Day, officials said.
Rochester Police Chief David Smith identified the suspect as 35-year-old Michael Avery, and said law enforcement has been in contact with his family.
“The suspect passed away last night,” Smith told reporters. “He has not been scientifically identified, but we are in the process of confirming his identity.”
The FBI was investigating the crash a possible terror incident after canisters of gasoline were found at the scene of the crash, but authorities leading the probe say they have not found any link to terrorism so far.
“I can confirm our Joint Terrorism Task Force is involved, but that’s not abnormal in a case like this. What I can tell you is, so far we’ve uncovered no evidence of an ideology and no nexus to terrorism, either international or domestic,” said Jeremy Bell, with the FBI’s Rochester bureau, at a news conference Tuesday morning.
Authorities have not identified a motive, but Rochester Police said in a statement that mental illness may have played a role.
“The conversations we have had with his family so far leads us to believe Avery may have been suffering from possible undiagnosed mental health issues,” police said in a statement, adding that they have not found evidence that anyone else was involved.
“Additionally, we have not uncovered any information leading us to believe the actions of Michael Avery on New Years Eve were motivated by any form of political or social biases,” the police statement said, adding, “It must be noted this is an ongoing investigation and additional information may be developed.”
Police carried out a search warrant later on New Year’s Day in a hotel room that Avery was renting in Rochester. They said at Tuesday briefing that there was not any suicide note found there. A search was also underway on the suspect’s personal vehicle, “but nothing thus far has been recovered that provides any additional insight into the why of this occurred,” police said.
Rochester Police shared images of Avery on Tuesday and asked witnesses or anyone with information to contact the department’s major crimes unit.
The crash happened shortly before 1 a.m. Monday as officers were directing traffic after a concert let out at the Kodak Center theater complex, police said in a statement. A Ford Expedition struck a Mitsubishi Outlander, sending both vehicles “through a group of pedestrians that were in the crosswalk,” the statement said.
Avery rented the Ford Expedition through a car rental agency at the Rochester Airport on Friday, after driving about 85 miles from Syracuse to Rochester a couple of days earlier, according to police. He had checked in last Wednesday at the Woodspring Suites hotel in the town of Greece, a Rochester suburb, they said.
Police said he made at least six separate purchases of gasoline and gas containers at different locations in the area throughout the day on Saturday.
Right before the crash, police said Avery sped up, crossed into oncoming traffic, “and appears to have intentionally been driving towards the pedestrian crossing.”
The Ford Expedition hit the Outlander, a rideshare vehicle carrying two passengers, which was at the time pulling out of the Kodak theater parking lot.
Two passengers in the Outlander were killed and the driver suffered non-life-threatening injuries, according to police. Three pedestrians who were struck were also taken to hospitals, one of them in critical condition.
Once the flames were doused, firefighters “located at least a dozen gasoline canisters in and around” the Expedition, the police statement said. That prompted police to bring in an arson team and alert the FBI, police said.
The Rochester Police Department Bomb Squad and Joint Arson Task Force were also called to the scene to investigate, CBS affiliate WROC reported.
“I know the community will have lots of questions as it relates to this. I ask them to continue to stay tuned,” Rochester Mayor Malik Evans said on Monday.
The band that performed at the Kodak Center before the crash, moe., posted a statement on Facebook sending condolences to the victims’ families and friends.
“On a night that was meant for celebration and togetherness, we are faced instead with a tragedy that defies understanding,” the band wrote.
Rochester is about 340 miles northwest of Manhattan.
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