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Cops Say They’ve Arrested Hit-and-Run Driver Who Gravely Injured Pro Hoops Star

12:46 PM EST on January 11, 2023

Pro basketball star Nigel Johnson was badly injured in a crash in August. Photo: Instagram

Police say they have arrested the reckless hit-and-run driver who smashed into a pro basketball player on the Henry Hudson Parkway last year, possibly ending his career — an arrest that only came after the victim's family pressured the NYPD to reopen a case that detectives had closed.

Rolfi Burgos, 28, was arrested on Tuesday and charged with leaving the scene of an injury-causing crash — the Aug. 18 collision he had with Nigel Johnson, 27, who had been waiting by his disabled car on the highway near Dyckman Street after it had lost a tire.

"We are so happy about the arrest because it gives us a little sense of peace," Johnson's mother, Catrice Johnson, told Streetsblog on Wednesday. "It just goes to show that persistence pays off."

Catrice Johnson said that on the night of the crash, her son, who had just completed a successful year with the Hübner Nyíregyháza Blue Sharks in the top division of the Hungarian league, had finished playing in the Dyckman Basketball tourney, an elite summer competition, and was headed home to Virginia on the Henry Hudson Parkway when one of the wheels fell off his car.

Johnson pulled over and made several calls, including to his coach, his wife and his mother, and was waiting for authorities to arrive when the driver of a black Mercedes slammed into the rear of his car.

"The impact caused [Johnson] to go into the bushes next to the highway," police said. "The second vehicle then flipped over and the operator fled the location on foot." (The Johnson family told Streetsblog that Nigel Johnson was thrown more than 50 feet from the crash site.)

Nigel Johnson in action. Photo: Instagram
Nigel Johnson in action. Photo: Instagram

Johnson was taken to Mt. Sinai Hospital with a concussion, a brain bleed, a broken cheekbone, a broken collarbone, a torn labrum, a dislocated hip, a fractured pelvis and, most alarmingly for a basketball player, compound fractures of his hand.

"The bones were coming out of the skin," Catrice Johnson said.

Johnson said she got in touch with the NYPD while her son was still in the hospital in New York. She discovered that the police had never talked to Nigel about the crash — nor had investigators interviewed a key witness who had pulled over to the side of the road to wait with Nigel until authorities arrived.

"I learned a few days later that they had closed the case," Catrice Johnson said. "When we finally got in touch with the detective, he said that he had not been in touch with the witness because, get this, the officer who talked to her on the scene wrote down the wrong number for her. We gave the detective the right number and made such a big fuss that they re-opened the case."

Johnson said the person who struck her son was the owner of the car because the day after the crash, the owner had reported the car stolen — yet the witness said the key was in the car when cops showed up. And Burgos is not charged with car theft, which suggests he does indeed own the car.

Nigel Johnson surrounded by his daughter, wife and mother. Photo: GoFundMe
Nigel Johnson surrounded by his son, wife and mother. Photo: GoFundMe

The rising star player had three surgeries to set everything right, and is now undergoing intensive physical therapy. It is unclear if he will ever play ball professionally again.

"Nigel was at the elite level," his father, Sidney Johnson (himself a former NFL player), told Streetsblog. "He just finished the TBT Tournament and was about to accept what was going to be his biggest deal ever, to play in the top French league this season when the crash happened. Now it's 50-50 if he'll play at that level again." (The family has set up a GoFundMe page to help Nigel through his recovery.)

The NYPD declined to provide more information.

It is exceptionally rare for the NYPD to make arrests in hit-and-run cases. In 2020 (the last year for which there is full year data), there were 39,299 hit-and-run crashes involving injuries or damage to property. Cops arrested just 351 people, or 0.8 percent of the cases.

The agency is better in crashes that involve serious injuries. In the first three-quarters of 2022, cops say they solved or made arrests in 17 of 63 crashes, or 27 percent. In 2021 (based on quarterly reports on the NYPD website), there were 93 such crashes, and cops ended up making 24 arrests, or just over 25 percent of the time.

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