By Jim Fitzgerald
THORNWOOD, NY — Investigators are trying to unravel conflicting accounts of how a Pace University football player driving away from the scene of a fight ended up dead hours after the team's homecoming game, struck in a burst of police gunfire that pierced his windshield.
Authorities say Danroy "D.J." Henry, 20, was parked in a fire lane outside a suburban New York bar but sped away from officers who rapped on his car window, hitting one who clung to the hood as the sedan barreled toward a colleague.
But the father of a passenger in the car says the driver took off because he thought police wanted him to move — and he denied that an officer was struck.
The New York State Police, Westchester County crime scene experts and the office of Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore are investigating the events involving three local police officers early Sunday. Henry had just played in Pace's game against Stonehill College of Easton, Mass., the junior defensive back's hometown.
His family and friends are skeptical of the account of events police gave.
Brandon Cox, a passenger in Henry's car who was grazed by a bullet, said they "won't rest until we get justice for D.J."
"In my heart, what went on that night ... it didn't need to come to that," Cox, who played football for Stonehill, said at a news conference outside his family's home in Easton. "Whether we were trying to drive away or not ... there was no need for any of that to happen. I do feel that we were victimized in that my friend's life was taken for no reason."
Cox's father, Thomas Parks, said Henry thought a police officer who knocked on the window of the car wanted them to move, so he started driving. He said Henry and Cox then saw an officer climb onto the hood and fire into the car.
The two were not involved in the fight that drew police to the scene, Parks said. Mount Pleasant Police Chief Louis Alagno said he would not comment on Parks' account.
DiFiore, speaking Tuesday at an unrelated news conference in Yonkers, expressed confidence that her investigation will unearth exactly what happened. She said everyone with information will be interviewed. DiFiore said she expected to speak Tuesday with Henry's parents.
A disturbance at Finnegan's Grill spilled from the strip mall in the Westchester County hamlet of Thornwood into the parking lot, and police from Pleasantville and Mount Pleasant were called.
Henry's Nissan Altima was parked in a fire lane as officers arrived. When an officer knocked on his window, Henry stepped on the gas, Alagno said.
"For no reason, the vehicle sped away," Alagno said at a news conference. "I can't describe to you why the driver did what he did."
Pleasantville Officer Aaron Hess tried to stop the car, was struck and "ended up on the hood," Alagno said. Hess drew his pistol and fired into the vehicle, the chief said.
Mount Pleasant Officer Ronald Beckley also fired at the car as it neared him in the fire lane, Alagno said. Another Mount Pleasant officer, Carl Castagna, was also struck; none of the three officers was seriously injured. A back-seat passenger in Henry's car was unhurt, Alagno said.
The Nissan, still in the fire lane, crashed into a patrol car and stopped. Officers handcuffed Henry, but "on seeing his condition they uncuffed him" and treated him, including with a defibrillator, Alagno said.
A student's cell phone video recording of the aftermath appears to show people performing chest compression on a person amid flashing police lights and screaming students clutching themselves against the night chill.
One passenger suffered a graze wound, and it wasn't clear whose bullet killed Henry. Police are gathering "all available video" from nearby stores, Alagno said.
A candlelight vigil was held Sunday evening at Pace's Pleasantville campus, which Henry attended.
"A lot of witnesses" disagree with the preliminary police account, his father, Danroy Henry Sr., told the Brockton Enterprise of Massachusetts on Sunday, "so we need to get to the bottom of it."
Cox, who wouldn't elaborate on the events of early Sunday, citing his lawyer's advice, said he was "heartbroken."
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"We spent all our summers together," he said. "We worked out together. We got ready for football together. We laughed ... we rejoiced together."