Police were chasing two people suspected of stealing a case of beer before the pursuit ended in a crash that killed a 13-year-old girl on Wednesday evening in northwest Indiana, authorities said.
About 4:30 p.m., an East Chicago officer was dispatched to a shoplifting complaint at a store at 4725 Indianapolis Blvd., according to a statement from East Chicago police. The officer saw a woman with a case of beer in the parking lot, told her to stop and followed on foot as she ran to a waiting Dodge Durango, police said.
The woman told the man at the wheel to start driving, and he backed out of a parking spot “into a high rate of speed trapping the officer inside the passenger side door,” according to police, who said the officer had to hold onto the door of the SUV to avoid being pinned against the car parked next to it. The officer let go of the SUV before it sped north against traffic on Indianapolis Boulevard.
Officers from neighboring Hammond joined East Chicago police in the chase as the SUV went about a mile and a half west, according to Indiana State Police, who are investigating the fatal crash that ensued.
The wanted Durango was going east on Gostlin Street in Hammond when it blew a red light at the intersection of Columbia Avenue and slammed into a northbound Chevrolet Equinox, state police said. The force of the collision sent the Equinox through a fence and into a grassy area off the side of the road.
The 13-year-old passenger in the Equinox, Julianna Chambers, suffered multiple blunt force injuries and was taken to Franciscan Health in Hammond, where she died at 6:02 p.m., according to police and the Lake County coroner’s office.
Her 57-year-old grandmother, who was at the wheel, was taken in critical condition by helicopter to Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. Both are from Whiting, Indiana.
The East Chicago and Hammond police departments both issued statements expressing “condolences” to Chambers’ family.
The 31-year-old Highland man driving the Durango was unharmed and arrested. The passenger — a 27-year-old East Chicago woman who owns the SUV and is suspected of swiping the beer — was taken to a hospital with minor injuries and released to police custody.
Charges were still pending Thursday afternoon, according to East Chicago police.