Questions swirled Thursday regarding decisions made during a police pursuit that started in East Chicago and ended when the man officers were chasing hit another vehicle in Hammond, killing a teenager and seriously injuring her grandmother.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. on Thursday offered condolences to the family of Julianna Chambers, 13, of Whiting, and her grandmother Theresa Paramo, 57, of Whiting, who was taken to an Illinois trauma center after the crash just before 5 p.m. Wednesday at Gostlin Street and Columbia Avenue.
“As a leader of the city, I feel like mistakes were made, not necessarily by my officers, but mistakes were made that resulted in the death of a 13-year-old girl … It’s a tough day for all of us,” McDermott said.
East Chicago police said in a statement the pursuit ensued shortly after officers were dispatched at 4:33 p.m. to the parking lot of 4725 Indianapolis Blvd. in reference to a shoplifting complaint. The pursuit entered Hammond at 4:37 p.m., Hammond Police Chief John Doughty said.
East Chicago police offered an account of what happened via a statement Thursday in which they described a police officer becoming trapped inside a passenger side door while the two suspects were attempting to flee the scene in a vehicle.
Indiana State Police late Wednesday identified the suspects fleeing police as driver Donnell Howard Jr., 31, of Highland, and passenger, Jessica Pichon, 27, of Danville, Illinois. Pichon was taken to Methodist Hospitals Northlake Campus with minor injuries after the crash. She was treated and released into police custody where she remains pending charges.
Police reported that Howard had no visible injuries. Hammond police Lt. Patrick Vicari said he did not have information Thursday on specific speeds reached during the chase.
State police said Howard was driving a 2010 Dodge Durango east on Gostlin Street — back toward East Chicago — when he hit the driver's side of a Chevrolet Equinox driven by Pamaro in the intersection. Doughty said Howard disregarded a red light before the crash.
“In the aftermath, you start asking questions like ‘What did these people do?’ Did they rob a bank? Did they murder somebody?’ No, they stole a case of beer,” McDermott said. “Are you freaking kidding me? This is why we’re driving around, in rush hour, in north Hammond, at a high rate of speed, endangering hundreds of residents?”
Somebody should have stepped up and "killed the chase," McDermott said.
In a Facebook post Thursday, McDermott offered the family condolences and said "we are doing all we can to evaluate the decision-making involved that led to this tragic accident."
The East Chicago police department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night regarding McDermott's criticism.
The Times submitted a public records request Thursday with the Lake County E-911 center for recordings during the pursuit.
Shoplifting complaint leads to pursuit
Upon arrival to the parking lot on Indianapolis Boulevard, an officer saw a woman, later identified as Pichon, with a case of beer in hand and ordered her to stop, according to East Chicago police. The woman continued to run in the direction of a blue Dodge SUV that appeared to be waiting for her, according to the news release.
As the officer approached the woman entering the vehicle, East Chicago police say she yelled “Go! Go! Go!” to the driver, later identified as Howard.
Howard allegedly put the SUV in reverse, and began backing out at “a high rate of speed,” trapping the officer inside the passenger side door, police said. The officer had to hold onto the door to escape injury and possibly become pinned between the SUV and an adjacent vehicle, according to East Chicago police.
The news release did not indicate whether any officer was injured.
The driver was instructed to stop, but instead he took off at a high rate of speed into the southbound lanes of traffic, almost striking several other vehicles traveling in the north and southbound lanes of Indianapolis Boulevard, police said.
East Chicago police said Howard “continued to travel in a reckless manner” until he struck the vehicle driven by Paramo at Columbia Avenue and Gostlin Street in Hammond.
East Chicago police in the release did not address questions from The Times about whether any officers have been placed on leave pending an investigation or why they left city limits to continue the pursuit. The department also did not address whether a supervisor ordered the pursuit to be terminated, and if so, what reasons officers gave for not terminating the pursuit.
“The East Chicago Police Department would like to express their condolences to the family members as they continue to pursue charges in this investigation,” police said in a news release.
At least three Hammond officers joined the chase, which continued "at a high rate of speed throughout North Hammond before the accident took place," McDermott said in a Facebook post Thursday.
The Durango came to rest in the right lane of westbound Gostlin, just east of the intersection. The Equinox went through a fence and came to rest in a grassy area just before the parking lot of Lang Ice Service, state police said.
Doughty's statement said police plan to present formal charges against the pair to the Lake County prosecutor's office.
Police did not have updated information Thursday on the condition of Paramo.
Indiana State Police are investigating the crash.