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Prison Time for the Austin Tire Slasher

Police lock up perpetrator of hundreds, maybe thousands, of flat tires

Gavin St. Ours

A neighborhood criminal's years-long campaign of highly specialized and geographically-focused crimes has come to an end. The man suspected to be behind many hundreds of tire slashings in Austin, Texas over the past two decades has been caught and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Tommy Joe Kelley was given the maximum sentence this week for one count of unlawful use of a criminal instrument, as the Austin American-Statesman reports. Four additional indictments are pending, but the story, it turns out, is much larger than that.

The tire slashings have been an amazingly long-running phenomenon in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Austin, with flat tires being reported for at least the past 16 years. KXAN noted 15 slashings in one week of April, 2010, and referred to the slasher as "the neighborhood’s biggest menace," attacking tires at random.

Kelley had been arrested on various charges over the years – including tire slashing – but police never had enough proof to tie him to the entire multi-year spree of slashings. When police found Kelley sitting on a curb last December sharpening a suspicious-looking tool, they were able to steadily build up a case connecting him to more than 400 slashings in just the last four years. Some estimates put his tire slashings in the thousands.

As the Austin Chronicle notes, Kelley, who is homeless, had in many ways become a staple of the neighborhood:

Kelley – who many in Hyde Park say they've seen speed-walking through their neighborhood, yelling incoherently, and throwing rocks at buildings, and who has had 500 separate run-ins with APD – was determined by a court-appointed psychiatrist to be mentally competent to stand trial.

For the Hyde Park neighborhood of Austin, Kelley’s arrest and sentencing puts an end to a mystery that's lasted well over a decade.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Gavin St. Ours.

About the Author

  • Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.