Police identify driver of Rochester car blast near concert venue as final days revealed


The driver accused of triggering a flaming fatal wreck outside a concert venue in upstate New York early New Year’s Day was identified on Tuesday, but investigators claimed they had not yet established any link to terrorism after many canisters of gasoline were discovered in his vehicle.

At 12:52 a.m., a rental Ford Expedition driven by the suspect, 35-year-old Michael Avery, smashed into it and erupted into flames as it rushed in the direction of pedestrians on a crosswalk outside the Kodak Center. Rochester Police Chief David Smith stated at a press conference Tuesday morning that the incident occurred on Monday.

Smith stated that the two passengers riding in the backseat of the ride-share vehicle, a Mitsubishi Outlander, were killed. Police identified them as Justina Hughes, 28, of Geneva, and Joshua Orr, 29, of Webster on Tuesday evening.

According to Smith, the ride-share driver was brought to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

The chief confirms that Avery was also killed in the crash with the ride-share vehicle as it exited a parking area at the Kodak Center, where a band had just performed.

Police say the suspect’sped up’ as he approached a pedestrian crossing.

Smith stated that the video of the incident reviewed by him and investigators appeared to demonstrate that Avery’s targets were people in the crosswalk outside the theater.

“Avery sped up, crossed into the oncoming lane of traffic, and appears to have intentionally been driving towards the pedestrian crossing,” Mr. Smith said.

Police identify driver of Rochester car blast near concert venue as final days revealed

Smith stated during a press conference on Monday that the force of the accident prompted the two automobiles engaged in the collision to strike a group of pedestrians in the crosswalk and then plow into two more vehicles.

“There was a large fire associated with the crash that took the Rochester Fire Department almost one hour to extinguish,” Smith went on to say.

He stated on Tuesday that at least nine pedestrians were hurt in the event, one of whom had life-threatening injuries.

After the fire was suppressed, first responders discovered at least a dozen gasoline canisters in and around the Ford Expedition, according to the police chief.

“We are continuing to work with our federal partners, including the FBI, to learn exactly what led to this crash,” Smith said in a statement.

No insight into a possible reason as of yet

Smith stated during Tuesday’s press conference that investigators executed a search warrant on a hotel room where Avery was staying in Greece, New York, roughly 9 miles northwest of Rochester.

Investigators also executed a search order on Avery’s personal vehicle, which was discovered in a parking garage at Rochester International Airport, according to the chief.

Smith stated that during the search for Avery’s automobile and vehicle, no suicide notes or written journals were uncovered.

“Investigators are still combing through evidence recovered from his vehicle, but nothing, thus far recovered provides any additional insight into why this occurred,” Smith went on to say.

Investigators found from interviews with Avery’s family members that the suspect “may have been suffering from possible undiagnosed mental health issues,” according to Smith, who declined to clarify.

“At this time, we have not been able to identify that there was anyone else involved in the crime or that it was part of a larger plot,” added Smith. “Additionally, we have not recovered any information leading us to believe the actions of Michael Avery on New Year’s Eve were motivated by any form of political or social biases.”

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is involved in the investigation, according to Jeremy Bell, the FBI agent in charge of the bureau’s Rochester office, which is “not unusual in a case like this.”

Police identify driver of Rochester car blast near concert venue as final days revealed

“But what I can tell you is that, so far, we’ve uncovered no evidence of ideology and no nexus to terrorism either international or domestic,” Bell went on to say.

Investigators suspect Avery checked into a room at the WoodSprings Suites hotel on Saturday and hired the Ford Expedition from a car rental service at the Rochester International Airport on Monday.

Avery purchased at least a half-dozen gas containers from various places in Monroe and Ontario counties on Tuesday between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

“Thus far, our information has shown he was alone when making these purchases,” Smith went on to say.

“The force of the collision caused the two vehicles to go through a group of pedestrians in the crosswalk, and then into two other vehicles,” Smith explained during a press conference on Monday. “There was a large fire associated with the crash that took the Rochester Fire Department almost one hour to extinguish.”

Victims remembered

Rochester Mayor Malik Evans requested anyone with knowledge regarding the event to contact the Rochester Police Department’s Major Crime Unit.

“The most important thing today, I think, for us as we go into the New Year is the victims of this horrific accident,” Evans said at a press conference on Tuesday.

“Remember, these people were going to see a Grateful Dead tribute band to ring in the New Year and have a good time.” Instead, we have people who will be grieving family members and people who have suffered life-altering injuries as a result of the suspect’s decisions.”

According to Hughes’ family, Orr and Hughes, the fatalities killed in the Mitsubishi Outlander, were best friends.

Police identify driver of Rochester car blast near concert venue as final days revealed

Hughes’ family remembers her as a “beautiful free spirit.”

“She was a talented artist who loved nature, and she took every opportunity to hike a new trail and find a new waterfall,” her family said in a statement.

Music was her “passion that gave her the most joy,” according to her family.

“We take peace in knowing that Justina and her very best friend, Josh, spent their last moments together, enjoying their passion and friendship,” a source close to her stated.

According to his family, Orr was “doing his most favorite thing in the world” that night by attending the event.

“Josh was a beautiful, generous human, filled with love and positivity and an advocate for those struggling with mental health,” the family stated in a statement.

Both families described the victims as heroes who saved other people’s lives during the catastrophe.

The band Moe., who were performing at the Kodak Center that night, expressed “profound shock and sadness” at the occurrence.

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

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