‘God I love that boy’: Man killed on I-264 remembered by high school basketball coach

Dominique Johnson, 33, was killed when his car was hit from behind by an alleged drunk driver.
Published: Aug. 15, 2022 at 11:09 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A basketball star and a young father was hit and killed by an alleged drunk driver on the Watterson on Sunday night. One day later, Dominique Johnson’s former high school coach paid tribute to his former player.

One look at Danny Edelen’s office will give it away. Basketball is his passion.

Over the years, that passion has taken him around the city, coaching for several schools in the Louisville area. It’s also how he was introduced to Johnson.

“He wasn’t 105 pounds as an eighth grader,” Edelen said. “And he introduced himself to me, and he just had this confidence. He wasn’t cocky, but he was like, ‘How you doing Coach Edelen? I’m Dominique Johnson. I’m going to be your starting point guard one day.’”

The eighth grader with unmatched confidence, and the first-year head coach at Waggener High School were an instant match.

“He was just fearless,” Edelen said. “I used to call him Little General. LG, Little General, because he was just a little coach on the floor all the time. You talk about that little ‘it’ factor and everything. He just had that infectious personality and smile.”

Sunday night, Edelen received a text from a friend asking if he had heard what happened to Johnson. Edelen said he turned on the news and watched in shock.

According to the arrest report, 42-year-old Maria Lara crashed her car into the back of Johnson’s on I-264 East at the Breckinridge Lane exit, causing Johnson’s car to go up in flames.

The passenger in the car Lara was allegedly driving was also injured and was sent to the hospital. The arrest report said the passenger is expected to survive their injuries.

Johnson was killed at the scene.

“I got on Facebook and I saw some of the pictures, and I saw some of the pictures of his daughters and just how beautiful they are, and it just broke me,” Edelen said. “I haven’t experienced anything like this before, so I don’t know how to process it. It’s just totally devastating.”

The news of Johnson’s death reminded Edelen of the last time they spoke, after Johnson had his son. He said that conversation has given him peace through his grief.

“I got to tell him I love him, and how proud I was of him as a man and as a father,” Edelen said. “Yeah. So, he was just one of those rare kids who loved basketball as much as I did, and just had that personality, even as soon as I was getting on him, it was hard to stay mad. Because he had that smile, and it was like, ‘God I love that boy.’”

Lara was in court Monday morning, charged with murder, operating a motor vehicle under the influence, assault and criminal mischief.

Lara’s attorney, Alex Fleming, argued she was not behind the wheel of the car at the time of the crash.

“[Police] crafted this in such a way, they went to great lengths to try to put Ms. Gibson in that front seat,” Fleming said. “The reason they do this is the question as to whether or not she was in the front seat of the vehicle at the time.”

Police said they smelled alcohol on Lara’s breath after the crash and said she had bloodshot, glassy eyes.

The arrest citation stated seat belt marks on Lara’s left shoulder going down to her right side also indicated she was on the driver side of the car.

Officers also found one of her earrings and her cell phone on the floorboard of the driver’s seat.

A judge maintained her bond at $100,000 cash.

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