NZ rugby player catches rogue US driver

By Peter Mitchell, AAP US Correspondent

A former New Zealand professional rugby player has helped US police catch the driver who ploughed into a crowd killing a person and injuring at least 34 others as white nationalists clashed with counter protesters in Virginia.

Chris Mahony, an Auckland-born adviser for the World Bank in Washington DC, said he noticed a grey sports car suspiciously stopped a small distance away from a group of people protesting the white supremacists on Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia.

"I thought that was a bit strange," Mr Mahony, 36, told CNN.

"Of course moments later we heard a car going incredibly fast down the road and saw it plough into the crowd."

Video shot by bystanders showed the car accelerating and smashing into the crowd and another vehicle and then rapidly reversing in an attempt to escape.

Mr Mahony, who played rugby for Auckland in the Air New Zealand Cup and for Oxford University, said he sprinted after the car to take photos to identify it and also alert police.

He saw a police officer and told him: "That car just ploughed into a whole lot of people".

The police officer immediately radioed the information to other officers and the driver was arrested.

"He said, 'We are on it. Quickly take me to where this happened'," Mr Mahony said.

Mr Mahony said he was not surprised tensions exploded between white nationalist groups, who were protesting the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Army General Robert E Lee from a park in the city, and counter groups.

Some white nationalists waved Confederate and Nazi flags, chanted Nazi slogans and were armed with assault rifles, poles and shields.

Mr Mahony was among the counter demonstrators.

"You had a high level of antagonism," he said.

"It wasn't necessarily peaceful.

"You had people literally in military fatigues walking around so that is an incredibly intimidating environment."

He was sickened when he saw the car crash into the crowd.

"When that happened I thought, 'This is someone deliberately attacking these people because of their beliefs'," he said.