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PORTAGE — A trail of panties, bras and other allegedly shoplifted items flew from the car window of a Liberty Township woman as she led police on a high-speed chase, nearly colliding head-on with other vehicles Wednesday night, Portage officers reported.

When approached by police for suspected shoplifting from the nearby Kohl's store at 6495 U.S. 6 in Portage, the woman, identified as 34-year-old Holly Sansone, shrugged with both hands in the air and said, "I've gotta go," before leading officers on the chase.

Sansone is accused of leading a chase that topped out near 100 mph at times as it proceeded shortly after 6:30 p.m. east down U.S. 6 and then north on Ind. 49 where it ended when her tires were punctured after driving over stop sticks placed down by police at Ind. 49 and Indian Boundary Road. Police said she nearly struck another vehicle head-on at one point, ignored red lights and nearly sideswiped other vehicles during the chase that found her traveling left-of-center and on the shoulder of the road.

Police said Sansone led officers on the potentially fatal car chase over the alleged theft of four bras, 14 panties, two candles and a few air freshener refills valued in total at $445.

Nearly lost control of her vehicle

The incident began shortly before 6:30 p.m. in the parking lot of Kohl's when an officer knocked on Sansone's car window after being told she took several items from the store, according to a police report. Sansone then told police she had to leave and sped off eastbound on U.S. 6.

Police said she sped through a red light at Airport Road, nearly struck a police vehicle near McCool Road and drove left-of-center near County Road 200 West, nearly colliding head-on with a westbound vehicle that had to swerve nearly into a culvert to avoid the collision. She was allegedly tossing items out of her car along the way.

As the chase reached 90 mph in a 45 mph zone on U.S. 6, Sansone sped through a red light at Meridian Road and nearly lost control of her vehicle as she turned north on Indiana 49, police said. Speeds then reached nearly 100 mph as Sansone bypassed traffic at Gateway Boulevard by passing through the intersection from the right-turn lane and then ignoring the red light at County Road 1100 North, police said.

Sansone then began driving on the right-hand shoulder of Indiana 49 to avoid traffic at Porter Avenue and continued throwing items of of her vehicle before striking stop sticks police had placed in her path near Indian Boundary Road, according to the incident report.

As police officers approached the vehicle with weapons drawn, Sansone reportedly hesitated at first to leave the car, resisted being taken into custody and then repeatedly told officers, "she didn't have anything on her."

Police found several pairs of women's underwear in the vehicle and recovered more panties and a bra from the side of the roadways. They also found at the jail that Sansone was wearing two pairs of panties with the price tags still attached.

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The loss prevention officer at Kohl's reportedly told police they watched as Sansone took the items after stopping in the men's fitting rooms.

Sansone was taken into custody on preliminary felony counts of fleeing law enforcement with a vehicle, theft and misdemeanor counts of resisting law enforcement and reckless driving. 

Police take heat

Portage Police Chief Troy Williams defended Wednesday night's high speed chase of an accused shoplifter, saying in part, her erratic behavior from the get-go concerned officers.

The responding officer did not know if Sansone was under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol or if she was wanted for another offense, Williams said. And it cannot be assumed she can be tracked down later by the vehicle license plates when the officer was not even sure she owned the car she was driving.

"There are more unknowns than knowns in something like that," he said.

The department is taking some heat on social media for carrying out the high speed chase over what turned out to be $445 worth of bras, panties and candles allegedly stolen from the Kohl's store at 6495 U.S. 6.

Williams said officers involved in chases are constantly evaluating the situation as it is occurring. There was no rainy or icy conditions, he said, and it was not a time of the day when students or pedestrians would likely be out.

"I'm comfortable with the way they handled it," he said.

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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.