A van slammed into pedestrians on a sidewalk outside a Starbucks in Shanghai on Friday, injuring at least 18 people, the Chinese state news media reported.
The crash occurred just before 9 a.m. local time on Nanjing Road West, near People’s Park in the heart of the city, according to Central China Television, the state broadcaster.
Eighteen people were taken to the hospital, including three who were seriously injured, it said.
The Shanghai police said the driver, a 40-year-old man surnamed Chen, worked for a metalware company in Shanghai and had no criminal history.
He “lost control and drove onto the sidewalk,” injuring 17 pedestrians and himself. None of the injured pedestrians is in mortal danger, the police said.
A witness told a reporter from The Paper, a local news outlet, that the van had been carrying fuel canisters. The police said that the driver had been smoking in the vehicle, setting off a fire inside, and that he was suspected of “illegally transporting dangerous substances.”
The fire was extinguished quickly, The Paper reported, and it did not appear that any of the canisters had exploded.
Witnesses said the van drove directly onto a sidewalk and hit five or six pedestrians who were waiting to cross, reported Xinmin Evening News, a Shanghai newspaper.
Video posted online showed firefighters extinguishing flames from a gray van as injured people lay on the sidewalk.
Some local news reports disappeared from their websites shortly after they were published, an indication that government censors may have ordered them removed.
Before the police indicated that the crash was an accident, images of the flaming van and injured pedestrians stirred concerns of a deliberate attack. China has a history of aggrieved citizens using vehicles or explosions to vent their anger at the authorities.
In 2013, five people died and dozens more were injured in downtown Beijing after a speeding vehicle bowled along a crowded sidewalk and burst into flames near the Forbidden City. In 2009, three people set themselves and their car on fire at Wangfujing, a shopping street just east of Tiananmen Square, in what was described as a protest over land seizures.
Starbucks is a major presence in China, where it has opened more than 500 locations a year, creating some 10,000 jobs in the country annually. There are at least 600 shops in Shanghai alone.