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Virginia police investigating chase in fatal crash

The Minnesota State Patrol is investigating the accident, but the Virginia Police Department is examining the chase itself.

A Virginia man who died when he crashed his pickup truck while fleeing police Saturday wasn't wearing a seat belt, the Minnesota State Patrol said.

Police also said they have not yet confirmed whether Jacob T. "Jake'' Stellmach, 19, and a 2008 graduate of Virginia High School, was drinking before the accident.

"We are waiting for blood tests," Minnesota State Patrol spokesman Sgt. Mike Flatley said Monday. Flatley said he did not know how long those tests might take.

Stellmach was killed when his 1991 Ford pickup truck left U.S. Highway 53 eight miles north of Virginia and hit a tree shortly after midnight. The state patrol estimated that speeds reached 80 mph before the crash. He was fleeing a Virginia police officer at the time, police said.

"The reason for the [attempted] stop was a traffic violation that started in the city of Virginia" on Second Avenue North, Virginia Police Chief Dana Waldron said. "The person passed the squad car."

The state patrol is investigating the accident, but the Police Department is examining the chase itself.

"Obviously, every time you have a chase you look at whether it was the right thing to do or should have been called off," Waldron said.

The department's policy allows for a pursuit when a motorist fails to stop and there is a reasonable expectation that a chase will result in the motorist stopping.

Among expressions of sadness are posthumous postings on Stellmach's Facebook page and a memorial page to him, including some that make mention of Stellmach drinking before the incident.

Reached by a News Tribune reporter Monday afternoon, Casey Stellmach, Jake's brother, said the family had no comment on the

incident except to relay funeral information. A visitation is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Hope Community Presbyterian Church in Virginia. It will continue Thursday from 10 a.m. until the 11 a.m. funeral service at the church.

Stellmach joins two other young men with Virginia connections to die in the past two months.

Dan Zamlen, 19, an Eveleth native who attended Virginia High School, drowned in the Mississippi River in St. Paul in April.

On Sunday, the body of 20-year-old Victor Torrel of Virginia was found in the Cascade River near Grand Marais. The Cook County Sheriff's department said Torrel died due to accidental drowning.

Another Facebook page memorializes all three, as well as David Kure, who died in late December 2007 shortly before his 19th birthday, according to the Web site.

Stellmach was attending Mesabi Range Community and Technical College. He loved his cats, was a computer whiz and was an alumnus of the Virginia High School Marching Blues Tuba Section.