By John Kanelis
Henry Ray used to be very angry with the Amarillo Police Department.
He's not so angry these days, although he insisted that the pain of his loss will stay with him for the rest of his life.
Ray said hIs "baby sister" died in June 2006 after being struck by a driver who then fled the scene of the accident at South 41st Avenue and Washington Street, Ray recalled. Kira Ann Hofman lingered for a time after the accident before succumbing to the injuries she suffered while crossing the street with two other people.
Ray said he had trouble getting the investigating Amarillo police officer to return his calls. But then the officer did, Ray said.
"I'm now convinced they have done all they can so far," Ray said. "They know the make and model of the car," he said. "But there are no witnesses around today. Someone has to know about the car."
Henry Ray's agony is but a sample of the kind of issues that bedevil Amarillo's police force, according to Cpl. Sean Slover, who runs the Crime Stoppers program at Amarillo PD.
"In some of these cases, we just have evidence we can work with," Slover said.
Slover declined to talk specifically about the Kira Ann Hofman case, saying he "wasn't involved in the investigation, but he said he understands the pain and anguish that Hofman's brother -- Ray -- is suffering.
Crime Stoppers, which is a separate non-profit entity funded virtually exclusively by private fundraising, asks the public for help in solving crimes, Slover said. "Unsolved cases often are publicized by the police department's Crime Prevention Unit and Crime Stoppers in an effort to to not only solve the crime but also to educate the public on how to prevent becoming a victim and develop an understanding of local crime trends," Slover explained.
Ray concurred with Slover's view of public assistance. "Unless the public comes forward, the police department seldom solves these cases," he said.
Crime Stoppers doesn't "prioritize" criminal cases, Slover said, adding that the department does prioritize "calls for service."
Calls involving criminal activity "are classified by their crime and sent to appropriate units to investigate and follow up on later," he said.
Slover said that "most tips are acted on or forwarded to investigators who may use them. Not all tips have complete information in them where they can be acted on. Some tipsters never respond or check back when I have questions. Some tips contain general information about criminals who commit crimes who we already know commit these crimes."
Slover said that the public also needs to understand the human factor involved with police officers. "We're all husbands, fathers, brothers, wives, sisters," he said, "and we hurt, too."
He recalled being dispatched to a call a few years ago to an automobile accident involving a 9-year-old who was killed. "The child went to the same school as my son," Slover said. "That incident bothered me terribly," he said.
"We're all human beings."
Crime Stoppers received nearly 1,400 tips in 2015, Slover said. The validity of those tips, he said, "is directly dependent on what information the tipster is able to provide. The more details a tip provides, the beter chance we will have of doing something with the tip."
He said tips "are not probable cause to make an arrest or have an arrest warrant or search warrant issued." He said "all tip information has to be corroborated and developed." It's painstaking work and Slover said he "often (will) take the tip and research it to add more credible information so the investigators will be able to run with it to help a case."
Slover also talked about officers who respond to particularly violent crimes. "Special Crimes Unit officers have to look at bodies," he said, "and then try to sleep at night. But you have to be professional at all times."
Their anxiety is made worse, as they often have to keep reviewing the physical evidence they collect, meaning that they have to keep looking at grisly photos, Slover said.
Henry Ray's anger has subsided some in the years since his sister's death.
"Yeah, I think the police department could have done more," he said. "I was mad" when the investigating officer phoned him recently to update him on the status of the investigation into his sister's death.
"But I told him, 'I know you're busy,'" Ray said.