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Family mourns 1-year-old boy, questions police chase

Family remembers 1-year-old boy killed after police chase

The family of a 1-year-old boy who was killed in Northeast Baltimore after a police chase remembered him Monday as a cheerful and smart baby who learned to run before he could walk.

A man fleeing Baltimore County police in a car Sunday night hit another motorist, whose vehicle then fatally struck the boy, Jeremiah Darrin Perry, as he sat in his stroller at a bus stop with his mother, according to authorities. The boy and his mother had spent the day at church, relatives said.

"I just want justice to be served for my son," 30-year-old Teaira Smallwood said through tears as her father and other family members embraced her. "My baby didn't have to go like that."

City and county police continue to investigate the chain of events that led to the chase and the 1-year-old's death. They have not identified the driver of a silver Mercedes-Benz who they say fled the county, where he allegedly hit a police cruiser that was on the scene of a separate fatal crash. No charges have yet been filed.

As the sun went down Monday, Jeremiah's family gathered near the Parkside Shopping Center on Moravia Road, where the child was hit. Mourners lit candles and sang "Jesus Loves Me."

Smallwood and other family members questioned why county police pursued the driver.

"I know God don't make no mistakes, but it was just so wrong for that cop to chase [the driver] all the way through town like that," she said.

An internal investigation of the pursuit is underway in Baltimore County, authorities said.

"It's standard procedure to go back and look at this pursuit, from its inception to its end, to see if the policy was followed," county police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said.

A supervisor had approved the pursuit, she added.

"These are moment-by-moment decisions that are made," Armacost said. "The policy calls for constant monitoring of the circumstances to determine whether the pursuit should continue."

Across the country, police-pursuit policies have become increasingly restrictive because of the dangers they pose to the public, said Geoffrey P. Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina. Many large departments now limit pursuits to instances where the target is suspected of a violent crime.

"The national trend is to restrict them to very serious offenses," Alpert said. "The goal has been to reduce the injuries and deaths, which of course requires reducing the pursuits."

More than 320 people, including officers, died in vehicle crashes involving police pursuits in 2013, the last year for which data is available, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Four of the fatalities happened in Maryland.

Armacost said the events leading to Perry's death began at 9:07 p.m. Sunday, when the driver of the Mercedes hit a county cruiser at the scene of a fatal crash that had killed Randolph Croom, 51, on Pulaski Highway in eastern Baltimore County.

No one was in the police cruiser at the time, Armacost said. The officer whose cruiser was hit jumped over a jersey wall to get out of the way of the Mercedes. The officer suffered injuries that were not deemed life-threatening.

The driver then fled west on Pulaski Highway and eventually into Baltimore City. T.J. Smith, chief spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department, said the Mercedes was northbound in the 5400 block of Moravia Road, approaching a red light at Sinclair Lane, when it struck a Volvo, which spun, hopped a curb and crashed into Jeremiah at the bus stop.

Jeremiah was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital's pediatric emergency room, where he died of his injuries, Smith said. The driver of the Mercedes was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center with minor injuries.

The driver of the Volvo was not injured, Smith said.

City Councilman Brandon Scott said he can't get the young boy's family "out of my head." The accident occurred in his district, where he said it's not uncommon to see county police.

"We're so close to the county line," Scott said.

The councilman said he could not immediately say whether he thinks the chase was warranted. Justification for police pursuits depends on the environment and the circumstances, he said, including whether the chase occurs in a suburb or in an urban area with more cars.

"The devil is in the details," he said. "We want to know how fast they were going. Did they already know who was driving the car, all of that information. Right now, all you can do is think about the tragic loss."

Baltimore County Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins, who represents the area where the chase began, called the incident "so upsetting."

Bevins declined to speculate on whether the police pursuit was appropriate. She said she's confident county police will carefully review the incident.

"Being a police officer is not an easy job," she said. "They have to make rush decisions."

At the site where Jeremiah was struck, balloons in the shape of baseballs and Mickey Mouse adorned a chain link fence. Darrin Perry II, 26, said his son had "a one-of-a-kind personality."

"He was smart," Perry said. "He wasn't like any other ordinary kid."

"He learned to run before he learned to walk," said an aunt, Precious Smallwood, 25. And, she said, "His favorite hobby was eating."

Smallwood, lives in an apartment building across from the crash site and was with the boy before he died.

"I thought that him hearing my voice would pull him through," she said.

Now, she said, "Nobody can bring him back."

Baltimore Sun reporters Yvonne Wenger and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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