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Harvest 16-year-old died in Courtland crash after pursuit that began in Decatur

A police pursuit that began in Decatur for a suspected traffic violation early Monday continued for about 35 miles, entered Lawrence County and ended with the death of the teenage motorist being pursued when his car crashed into a tree, according to authorities.

Jaiden DeJarnett, 16, of Burwell Spring Lane in Harvest, was pronounced dead at 3:39 a.m. Monday after the crash on Lawrence County 270 just north of Alabama 20 in the Courtland area, Lawrence County Coroner Scott Norwood said.

DeJarnett was a junior at Sparkman High School and a member of the varsity football team, authorities said Tuesday.

DeJarnett was traveling southbound on Lawrence 270 and had just come over a portion of the road that is inclined to cross railroad tracks when the crash occurred, Norwood said. The accident site is between the railroad tracks and Alabama 20.

Lawrence County Sheriff Max Sanders said, “When he hit the railroad tracks, I think he just lost control.”

Decatur police said in a statement that a patrol officer attempted a traffic stop at 2:40 a.m. Monday for an alleged traffic violation near Beltline Road Southwest/Alabama 67 and Danville Road.

“The driver failed to stop and led officers on a pursuit into Lawrence County,” Decatur police said in a statement. “During the pursuit, the driver lost control of the vehicle and struck a tree. The driver was pronounced deceased on scene.”

DeJarnett was driving a Mazda four-door sedan, according to Norwood.

The pursuit into Lawrence County apparently looped through Town Creek before turning back toward Courtland.

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is investigating the crash, according to the Decatur police statement.

Irene Cardenas-Martinez, Decatur police spokeswoman, said Monday that she had no further information on the pursuit and she did not release the name of the officer who initiated the pursuit or the nature of the alleged traffic violation. She said nobody in the department had been placed on administrative leave in connection with the chase.

The Decatur police policy directive manual posted on the department’s website says under “arrest powers of peace officer in fresh pursuit,” that its authority extends “into any adjacent county when the officer is in fresh pursuit of a person or persons to be arrested for a misdemeanor.”

Under guidelines for pursuits, it says, “The decision to initiate a pursuit rests with the individual officer” and “officers engaged in pursuit driving shall not drive with reckless disregard for the lives and safety of others. … Any officer involved in the pursuit may cancel the pursuit, if they believe on their firsthand knowledge that it is not safe to continue.”

State and law enforcement officials are hoping an amended law that took effect this month will deter motorists from fleeing police. The amended state law can lead to harsher felony penalties for fleeing or eluding a law enforcement officer. Fleeing from police had previously been a misdemeanor in most instances.

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