ST. JOSEPH — A child is back safe with her mother and a man is in the Berrien County jail after he sped through three counties Wednesday with the child in the car, unrestrained.
According to the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office, Willitte Jones, 30, of Portage, was arrested on charges of child endangerment, reckless driving, carrying a concealed weapon and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The incident began in Portage, Mich., and ended at the intersection of Vincent and Butternut streets in Benton Township. Police agencies involved included the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department, Benton Township Police, St. Joseph Department of Public Safety, Portage police, the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department, state police and Medic 1 ambulance.
Berrien County 911 dispatch was notified at 2 a.m. Wednesday that Van Buren County sheriff’s officers were following a vehicle on I-94, heading into Berrien County. Police were alerted that the driver was a suspect in a domestic violence incident in Portage and that his 1-year-old daughter was in the vehicle, not buckled up. The man was possibly intoxicated and possibly armed with a handgun, police said. He left Van Buren County at speeds reaching 110 mph, according to police. He had reportedly fled Portage police before leading Van Buren officers in pursuit.
According to the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office, deputies there chose not to chase the vehicle out of caution for the child. The vehicle entered Berrien County and was seen traveling toward Benton Harbor at a high rate of speed. Deputies learned the driver had family and a former address in the Benton Harbor area.
According to a news release, deputies followed from a long distance without lights and sirens, and briefly lost sight of the vehicle, which was then spotted on M-139 at Pipestone Avenue by the Michigan State Police. The vehicle was followed and initially was traveling slowly. It then sped up, turned off its lights and was lost again in the city of Benton Harbor.
At 2:48 a.m. citizens from the 900 block of Jennings in Benton Harbor reported a crash in which a vehicle had flipped and was on its roof. Police rushed to the scene and found it was not the vehicle they were looking for with the suspect and baby. The driver had mild injuries, appeared to be intoxicated, and was taken by Medic 1 to Lakeland Medical Center, St. Joseph. On the way to the hospital, ambulance personnel spotted the original suspect vehicle, which police say was traveling with no headlights on, ran a stop sign and nearly collided with the ambulance.
The vehicle was lost again, but was spotted at Pipestone Road and Britain Avenue, continuing to drive with headlights off, police said. Dust and smoke were seen near the intersection of Main Street and Butternut, and the suspect vehicle was found in a yard with a blown out tire. There was no one in the vehicle, according to police.
A tracking dog from the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office tracked the suspect, who was located in the 1200 block of Vincent Court hiding behind a shed, police said. The K-9, Blek, apprehended the man by biting him in the arm. He was taken into custody and the baby was found unharmed. A handgun was found in the suspect’s pant leg, police said.
The man was taken to Lakeland where he was treated for the K-9 bite. The 1-year-old was also taken to Lakeland, checked by staff, then was reunited with her mother, police said.