Trending Topics

3 killed in N.Y. crash involving SUV loaded with containers of gasoline

The driver, Michael Avery, purchased gasoline, fuel containers before crashing outside a Rochester venue, killing two pedestrians

Associated Press

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The driver who crashed an SUV loaded with gas cans outside a western New York concert venue appeared to have been aiming at a pedestrian crossing, but there’s no evidence of a terror motive in the fiery wreck that killed him and two ride-hail passengers on New Year’s Day, police said Tuesday.

The man behind the wheel, tentatively identified as Michael Avery, 35, of the Syracuse area, may have suffered from undiagnosed mental health problems, Rochester police Chief David Smith said at a news conference.

Avery had spent days in the Rochester area and made at least a half-dozen purchases of gasoline and fuel containers before the crash. But officials say the motive remains unknown.

“I have been getting inundated with questions as to why this individual would choose ... Rochester, New York, why he would choose to do this on New Year’s Day, and why he would appear to target concertgoers trying to have a great time to bring in the new year,” Mayor Malik Evans said. “Those are all questions that have been raised, and things that we just don’t have answers to yet.”

The wreck happened shortly before 1 a.m. Monday in front of the Kodak Center as concertgoers exited after a performance by the jam band moe.

The driver of the SUV, a Ford Expedition, accelerated as he neared the theater, crossed into the oncoming lane of traffic and appeared to have intentionally been driving toward a crosswalk filled with people, according to police.

But the Expedition then struck a Mitsubishi Outlander pulling out of a parking lot, sending both vehicles sliding into people in the crossing.

Two rear-seat passengers in the Outlander were killed. Police identified them Tuesday as New York residents Justina Hughes, 28, of Geneva, and Joshua Orr, 29, of Webster. Their families released statements saying they were best friends who loved music.

Avery died later at a hospital, according to Smith. At least nine pedestrians were injured, one with “life-altering” injuries. The rest were expected to make full recoveries, officials said.

The collision caused a blaze that took the fire department more than an hour to extinguish.

Police searched Avery’s hotel room after the crash and did not find a suicide note.

Police say Avery drove to the Rochester area Dec. 27 and checked into a hotel, renting the Expedition two days later at the local airport. He went on a buying spree of gasoline and gasoline containers around the area Saturday.

“We’ve uncovered no evidence of an ideology and no nexus to terrorism, either international or domestic so far in the investigation,” said Jeremy Bell, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Rochester office.

Officials said the FBI’s joint terrorism task force was involved in the investigation, which is usual in cases like this.

The members of moe., the band that had performed at the Kodak Center, said they were experiencing “profound shock and sadness.”

“On a night that was meant for celebration and togetherness, we are faced instead with a tragedy that defies understanding. Our hearts go out to the family and friends of those who lost their lives, and our thoughts are with those who were injured,” the band said in an Instagram post.