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Police in New York look for a motive into deadly Jan. 1 crash in Rochester

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Investigators have yet to determine a motive in a fiery car crash that took place on New Year's Day in Rochester, N.Y. Police say a driver crashed into another vehicle outside a concert venue, killing himself and two other people. Here's Gino Fanelli with WXXI news.

GINO FANELLI, BYLINE: The crash happened just before 1 a.m. on January 1, as concertgoers were leaving Kodak Center in the far north of Rochester after a New Year's Eve performance. Rochester Police Chief David Smith said in a press conference on Tuesday that the driver is believed to be 35-year-old Michael Avery. Smith said Avery deliberately sped a rented SUV into a lane of oncoming traffic close to a pedestrian crossing and hit an Uber.

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DAVID SMITH: This created the chain of events that followed, leading to the death of the two rear-seat passengers of the rideshare vehicle and the injuries of at least nine pedestrians.

FANELLI: The SUV had been packed with about a dozen gasoline canisters that exploded on impact. Eight of the nine pedestrians suffered minor injuries. A ninth suffered injuries that police have called life-altering. The two passengers who died in the crash have been identified by police as 28-year-old Justina Hughes and 29-year-old Joshua Orr, who had been attending the concert. While police said Avery is strongly believed to be the driver and officials have been in conversation with his family, his identity have yet to be forensically confirmed. The FBI and Rochester police do not suspect the incident was a terrorist attack. They say Avery had no known connection to any extremist ideology. Police Chief Smith said investigators are still working to piece together a motive.

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SMITH: Nothing thus far has been recovered that provides any additional insight into why this occurred. Although the motive behind the crime remains unknown, the conversations we've had with this family so far leads us to believe that Avery may have been suffering from possible undiagnosed mental health issues.

FANELLI: According to Smith, Avery arrived in Rochester from his home in Syracuse, about 90 miles away, on December 27, and checked into a hotel close to the concert venue. He says they have security footage of Avery buying gasoline and gas canisters on December 30. Authorities continue to comb through items gathered from Avery's car and hotel room. Police Chief Smith said no suicide note has been found.

For NPR News, I'm Gino Fanelli in Rochester.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROWN BIRD'S "SHILOH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Gino Fanelli
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