MOULTON — A Danville man died Saturday night after fleeing Lawrence County sheriff's deputies and crashing his vehicle, which also carried his 5-year-old daughter, who was apparently left orphaned by the crash, authorities said.
Gregory Shane Johnson's sport utility vehicle came to rest so far off Lawrence County 331 during the 8:50 p.m. crash, eight miles east of Moulton, that the child trapped within probably would have died during the frigid night if not for the sharp eye of the deputy who rescued her, state troopers said.
Johnson, 30, a production worker for Sonoco Corp., was preceded in death by his wife, Quana Johnson, according to his obituary.
Sheriff Gene Mitchell said deputies pursuing Johnson after he drove away during a traffic stop on Alabama 24 lost sight of him.
Authorities said the chase was called off before the crash was discovered.
Troopers said Johnson was not wearing a seat belt and was thrown from the 1995 Jeep Cherokee, which landed on its passenger side. Adriana Johnson was trapped in a child restraint in the passenger-side back seat.
Trooper Andrew Alexander said the SUV was in the woods about 50 yards off the road, but a passing deputy spotted broken limbs and investigated.
"If it wasn't for them, the little girl would have been dead," Alexander said. "It was 28 degrees outside. The deputy did a good job."
National Weather Service meteorologist Chelly Amin said the temperature near Moulton dropped as low as 19 degrees in the early morning.
Adriana was treated at Lawrence Medical Center and released.
"It's a fortunate thing that she was pretty much unscathed. She had a few little scratches, but she was buckled in good," said Assistant Coroner Jason Jones. "... It's just a miracle she was in the shape she was."
Jones said he believed Adriana remained in the care of Johnson's father, who picked her up from the hospital.
Johnson, a 2002 graduate of Speake High School, loved hunting and University of Alabama football, according to his Facebook page, where friends expressed their condolences Sunday.
Attempts to reach relatives were unsuccessful.
Mitchell said Johnson nearly struck a deputy's car on Alabama 24 near the Jet Pep station east of Moulton.
"He had passed him and almost hit the patrol car. So that's why the deputy pulled him over, to find out what was wrong," Mitchell said.
Mitchell told The Moulton Advertiser that Johnson appeared to be intoxicated, had alcohol in the vehicle with him, and was driving with a revoked driver's license.
While the deputy was running Johnson's information, Johnson took off, Mitchell said.
That deputy and another who had just arrived on scene pursued Johnson but lost sight of him.
"I think they saw him turn on 331, but didn't see him after that," Mitchell said.
Johnson reportedly reached speeds as high as 100 mph.
Mitchell said Johnson failed to turn in a curve, crossed a ditch, went through a hedge and crashed in the woods. Deputies initially drove past the crash but came back and discovered the wreck, the sheriff said.
"They got the little girl out and EMTs took her to the hospital," Mitchell said.
Troopers, who were not involved in the pursuit, said the crash remains under investigation.
Lawrence County Coroner Scott Norwood said samples were sent to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences for toxicology testing, but results would probably take six to eight months.
Funeral for Johnson will be Tuesday at 2 p.m. at Enon Baptist Church in Danville with burial in the adjoining cemetery and viewing one hour prior to the service. Visitation is tonight from 6 to 8 at Peck Funeral home.
Seth Burkett can be reached at 256-340-2446.