A high-speed chase that started in Clive early Friday morning ended in Indianola with a fatal crash and the discovery of a missing child.
Indianola police confirm the man killed in the wreck was 33-year-old Jeremiah Eldon Johnson. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s website, Johnson allegedly abducted his five-year-old son during a custody dispute with the child’s mother.
The mother was awarded full custody in July of 2012, but Johnson did not return him to her custody. A missing child report was filed with Des Moines police in November of 2012.
Indianola police confirm the child located in the crashed vehicle had been reported as missing to Des Moines police. Officials say they aren’t releasing the name but the child is in stable condition at the hospital.
Sgt. Jason Halifax with Des Moines police says Iowa law doesn’t have a parental abduction code and child custody disputes are often handled in civil court. He says Johnson was not facing any warrants in connection with the custody dispute.
He was, however, wanted in connection with a chase in Gwinnett County, Georgia in January. He was charged with fleeing attempting to elude an officer, two counts of obstruction of justice, reckless driving, cruelty to a child, reckless driving, and several traffic charges.
The chase began when Clive police say they tried to pull over a silver Volkswagen Passat around 2:47 a.m. after an officer noticed the car’s license plate was partially obscured by a plastic cover.
Initially the officer followed the vehicle as it made its way down the exit ramp if I-80 eastbound, then turned onto Hickman Avenue. The car made a sharp turn into the Love’s Truck Stop and stopped at the gas pumps.
"The officer pulled in behind him them to try and initiate a traffic stop when he engaged his emergency lights the vehicle sped up and began trying to flee from the traffic stop," says Chief Michael Venema with the Clive Police Department.
The vehicle left the truck stop and turned back on to Hickman, then headed westbound on I-80. The Clive officer initiated a traffic stop because of the license plate issue and the suspicious behavior of the driver. The vehicle didn’t stop and took off at a high rate of speed.
The officer accelerated to 110 miles per hour but was unable to keep up with the suspect’s vehicle and radioed for assistance. The officer continued pursuit to keep the suspect’s car in sight as it turned east at the Highway 5 bypass. Once Warren County Sheriff’s deputies picked up the pursuit, the Clive officer discontinued chase.
The deputies chased the vehicle on Highway 5 through Carlisle, Hartford, and into Marion County. The suspect vehicle went south on Highway 5 to Highway 92 and headed west on Highway 92 toward Indianola.
An Indianola police officer placed stop sticks on Highway 92 at Pickard Park near the east of Indianola. Another officer positioned his car at 15th St. on Highway 92, facing northbound and turned on the emergency lights.
When the suspect’s vehicle hit the stop sticks, the officer in the car facing northbound exited his squad car after noticing the headlights from the suspect’s vehicle coming from the east. The suspect’s car hit the parked Indianola police car on its passenger side. The officer was not injured.
The impact of the collision ripped out the engine of the patrol car where it laid to rest a block away along with the driver’s car.
Police say Johnson was killed in the crash, but he wasn't the only one in the vehicle.
"Initially when officers walked up to the vehicle all they saw was the driver and that he was deceased until they heard someone crying from inside of the vehicle, and that`s when they noticed the child," says Sgt. Brian Sher with the Indianola Police Department.
Officers did not say how old the child was, but the child was taken to Blank Children’s Hospital where he is in stable condition. The Iowa State Patrol confirmed the child found in the vehicle had been reported missing.
K&K Auto Repair is located just across the street from the crash site.
"Horrible, I can`t believe something like this would happen especially here," says co-owner Kathy DeHeer.
DeHeer says when she got to work, the accident was already being cleaned up. She says it's hard to imagine anyone survived such a horrible crash.
"I'm wishing everybody the best of the luck and hope the baby, the child well," says DeHeer.
The state patrol is taking over the investigation. Troopers estimate Johnson was traveling 130 miles per hour when he hit the patrol car. Meanwhile, the Indianola Police Department is counting its blessings.
"The training really kicked in for our officers today, and they knew what they were doing and knew how to do it, and we`re glad they`re all okay," says Sgt. Sher.
The investigation continues in the crash.