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PARMA, Ohio -- One man is dead and three others, including his infant child, were injured after an early morning police chase in Parma. Investigators said it began with the suspected shoplifting of food from a grocery store.
The crash happened around 5:15 a.m. Monday when a Chevy Malibu crashed into a garbage truck and spun out at the intersection of Pearl and Ridge Roads, according to investigators.
Police said the driver of the Malibu and suspected shoplifter -- identified as 31-year-old Robert Jones, of Cleveland -- was killed.
"He had a valid driver's license; he didn't have any warrants, so it's unknown as to why he fled," said Parma Police Sergeant Dan Ciryak.
Ciryak said the chase lasted about two minutes and began after a manager at the Parma Giant Eagle store reported Jones stole steak, seafood and beer before driving away.
The chase reached about 60 miles per hour as Jones drove north on Ridge Road, dodging other drivers as he veered in and out of side streets before losing control during a turn onto Pearl Road, according to Ciryak.
The car burst into flames after hitting the garbage truck, catching the pant leg of an officer on fire before it was extinguished. He and another officer who cut his hand breaking a window to free passengers from the car were not seriously hurt, according to Ciryak.
Ciryak said officers were able to free the suspect's 48-year-old mother from the passenger seat and the suspect's 5-month-old daughter from a child seat in the back. Both were hospitalized, and police said the infant had serious injuries. The driver of the garbage truck was also hospitalized.
According to a police report, the Malibu was registered to a Cleveland man who told investigators he "lent his vehicle to a friend's neighbor" who had an infant with her to "go to Giant Eagle because the child was hungry."
Ciryak said officers were not aware a child was in the car when they began to pursue it.
"They just thought it was the driver. They obviously didn't know about the child. Had they known about the child they would have terminated it immediately," Ciryak said, noting Parma police policy leaves the decision to chase at the discretion of officers and their supervisor.
Ciryak said the crash happened before officers had time to gather information to determine whether or not to call it off, and it appeared officers followed protocol.
"You don't know who the driver is; you don't know what he's wanted for, or what other crimes he might be part of," Ciryak said. "It was still early in the morning. There was very light traffic, so at that point the officers are trying to gather information before anybody has a chance to call off the pursuit."
Ciryak said detectives are still investigating the role of the suspect's mother, who has not been identified, in the shoplifting. He said she may face charges.
"The sad part is that was his choice that he made," Ciryak said of Jones. "If he would've just pulled over, he would've gotten just possibly a citation."