Gavin St. Ours

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

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

Most Popular

  1. a photo of a highway

    Americans Are Spending Billions on Bad Highway Expansions

    PIRG’s annual list of “highway boondoggles” includes nine transportation projects that will cost a total of $25 billion while driving up emissions.

  2. Maps

    The Squirrel Census Answers a Question You Weren’t Asking

    How many squirrels live in New York City's Central Park? Finding the answer was surprisingly complicated.

  3. Rows of machinery with long blue tubes and pipes seen at a water desalination plant.

    A Water-Stressed World Turns to Desalination

    Desalination is increasingly being used to provide drinking water around the globe. But it remains expensive and creates its own environmental problems.

  4. a photo of a woman covering her ears on a noisy NYC subway platform

    My Quixotic Quest for Quiet in New York City

    In a booming city, the din of new construction and traffic can be intolerable. Enter Hush City, an app to map the sounds of silence.   

  5. Design

    What Cities Can Do to Help Birds and Bees Survive

    Pollinators—the wildlife that shuffle pollen between flowers—are being decimated. But they may still thrive with enough help from urban humans.