Tommy Joe Kelley

Tommy Joe Kelley was sentenced to 10 years in prison last week for the unlawful use of a criminal instrument to puncture car tires in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

David Conner, president of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, said Kelley was responsible for thousands of dollars of tire damage over the past 16 years, but his homelessness made it difficult to stop his actions.

“All we could do was just call the police when something happened,” Conner said. “Nobody could really do anything when he was just walking around the neighborhood.”

Conner said the Neighborhood Association was getting ready to install security cameras to record him puncturing tires, but he was arrested last December before they were installed.

Virginia Vasquez, judicial aid for Judge Julie Kocurek, said Kelley represented himself in trial and had his four other charges reset for trial next December.

“The trial started on Monday at 1:30 p.m. and ended Wednesday around 4 p.m.,” Vasquez said. “But he will be going to court again soon for his other charges.”

UT English alumna Taylor Moore said she saw homeless people, including Kelley, walking through Hyde Park frequently when she lived there.

“I would see him staring in the mirrors of cars and screaming at himself,” Moore said.

Moore said she had her tires damaged after an uncomfortable experience with Kelley.

“One day, he asked if I could give him a blanket and socks,” Moore said. “I only had a blanket to give him from my car, and he became really mad at me and said I was unkind.”

After this event, Moore said she returned to her home in the morning and found that two of her tires were flat.

“The two driver’s side tires were flat, and the cost to repair was around $250,” Moore said.

Moore said the damage to her tires matches the description of the tool Kelley was found using when he was arrested last December.

“At first, I didn’t notice any kind of hole in my tires, and I thought they were just flat,” Moore said. “AAA came and tried to fill them up, but they found many very small holes, so we knew it was intentional damage.”

Conner said he is happy with Kelley’s sentencing because he was causing more problems for Hyde Park than puncturing tires.

“He used to urinate and drink alcohol in the park,” Conner said. “He probably needs some mental help also, so hopefully the police and courts can take care of the situation.” 

Although Tommy Joe Kelley, who police think could be involved in hundreds of tire slashings around Hyde Park, has been arrested, many North Campus residents are still concerned about safety.

History senior Katie Carson said she is frustrated it took so long for police to catch Kelley. While visiting her boyfriend on 41st Street last May, someone slashed her tires.

“I thought that I had just run over something,” Carson said. “I went to a tire place and they said, ‘This was done by an ice pick.’”

According to Austin Police Department, Kelley used a long, thin piece of metal sharpened to a point to puncture tires.

For a long time, Carson did not park her car by her boyfriend’s apartment.

“I still have a feeling someone is going to come and slash my tires,” Carson said.

Nursing senior Justin Savino said the tire slashings are one of the reasons he is moving out of his North Campus apartment.

“I park in an apartment parking lot on Helms [Street] and Speedway,” Savino said. “The person who we park next to [had] all four of her tires [slashed]. She went out and bought new ones and the tire slasher came back and reslashed them.”

He said seeing his neighbor’s troubles really made him concerned about his car, so he asked his landlords to install cameras so the offender could be caught. They never did.

Savino said he is not concerned about copycats.

“My personal opinion is that tire slashing is a pastime and is probably caused by one mentally deranged individual doing something stupid,” Savino said. “Once you get him and put him away and [help his] mental health, you probably eliminate the problem.”

Lindsay Taylor, a public relations and government senior, said the Austin Police Department should keep North Campus residents more informed about potential safety issues.

“North Campus is a pretty neglected part of University life in general,” Taylor said. “Even though it is so far away from campus, a ton of students live there and keeping us more aware of situations like this is a really good idea.”

Communication studies junior Thomas Nguyen, who lives in North Campus, is mostly concerned about the safety of his car rather than his own personal safety.

“In general, it is pretty quiet in North Campus,” Nguyen said. “It’s a little shady sometimes. The buildings are older than West Campus and sometimes the conditions of the street and the alleys between the buildings seem a little sketchy, but overall I feel like it’s a decently safe place.”

News Briefly

The Austin Police Department arrested a North Campus tire-slashing vigilante after releasing a warrant early Thursday.

Tommy Joe Kelley was involved in at least five separate documented cases of tire slashing in and around the Hyde Park area in the last 16 years.

Kelley is suspected of committing hundreds if not more than a thousand criminal mischief offenses, according to the arrest affidavit. Although he began by using knives, Kelley invented his own puncturing tool that left a mark barely visible to the naked eye, according to the affidavit.

Police charged Kelley, 56, with four counts of unlawful use of a criminal instrument, a third-degree felony.

Kelley’s criminal record dates back to 1973 and includes 500 involvements with APD, 57 arrests and 23 convictions. Kelley’s nearly 40-year-long crime spree spanned three states, six different dates of birth, 44 aliases and numerous social security numbers. His arrests range from burglary to prostitution.

Major spikes in criminal mischief tire offenses from the area in the past three years coincided with Kelley’s jail release dates, according to the affidavit. Police used the Hyde Park Tire Slasher Tracker website, dedicated to reporting tire slashes, to gain more information about Kelley and his mode of operation.

Kelley is also a suspect in approximately 53 cases of smashed car windows in the Hyde Park area in the last four years.