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Woman, 21, charged in long police chase


A White Hall woman who led police on a chase from Baltimore City to Carroll County on Wednesday is accused of driving into a police car, swerving at several other vehicles, briefly dragging a police officer and driving through a church playground, police said yesterday.

At one point during the long chase, the woman left the driver's seat of a stolen Jeep Cherokee for the passenger side, leaving the sport utility vehicle "coasting out of control" at about 40 mph, according to a police report.

Jessica Lynn Banack, 21, of the 2300 block of Walnut Springs Court, was charged with first-degree assault, second-degree assault, auto theft and fleeing and eluding a police officer, among other charges, police said yesterday.

The chase began, police said, in East Baltimore when a woman told a city police officer that someone had driven away in her Jeep Cherokee, which had been left running.

The driver of the stolen Jeep led city officers through Fells Point, toward downtown then north on the Jones Falls Expressway, with at least a dozen police cars and a helicopter in pursuit.

Baltimore County police officers caught up with the vehicle in the area of Black Rock and Trenton Roads in northern Baltimore County. The driver repeatedly veered into oncoming traffic, then pulled the Jeep into a field and stopped, police said. As an officer tried to apprehend her, the suspect sped off, dragging the officer alongside the vehicle for 10 to 15 feet, according to the police report.

After turning onto Hanover Pike, police saw the driver briefly leave the driver's seat, the report states. In Carroll County, police said, the suspect drove through a play area at Hampstead Baptist Church, which sent about 25 children, ages 8 to 11 scrambling. The Rev. Brian Jernigan, pastor of Hampstead Baptist Church, said the children were about to play whiffle ball behind the church when the car headed toward the field.

The children and their chaperones heard a voice from a helicopter telling them to get back inside, Jernigan said.

"The children were frightened a little, but certainly not injured," he said. Banack was arrested nearby, after police vehicles from Baltimore, Baltimore County, Maryland State Police, the Carroll County Sheriff's Office and Hampstead police surrounded the Jeep.

Although Banack was arrested in Carroll County, she was charged by Baltimore County police because most of the crimes she is accused of occurred there, said Officer Sean Vinson, a Baltimore County police spokesman.

According to Vinson, police must weigh the seriousness of a crime against the risks posed by a car chase when deciding whether to pursue a suspect.

"She had very erratic behavior. She was climbing out of the driver's seat, swerving toward both civilian and noncivilian vehicles," Vinson said. "She was a threat to the public if we let her go."

According to police, Banack acknowledged that she had used drugs before the chase. She was taken to the Cockeysville precinct and then to St. Joseph Medical Center.

While at the hospital, the woman freed one of her hands from a set of handcuffs and punched an officer, according to the police report.

Banack was being held at the Baltimore County Detention Center yesterday in lieu of $150,000 bail, police said.

Sun staff writer Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

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