Making a Difference:
Community Coordination Helps Crime Victims

The McKinney Police Department (MPD) received a 911 call reporting a bizarre homicide in March 2004. It was a multiple murder, with several victims. Three were dead at the scene. The fourth was airlifted to the hospital, but he later died.

In the wake of those violent deaths were grieving families that urgently needed financial assistance for expenses ranging from medical (CareFlight) and burial to psychiatric services. Lori Harvell, Victim Assistance Liaison for MPD, was feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of facing so many family members alone. How was she going to answer all of their questions and help them fill out the applications for Crime Victims' Compensation (CVC) in the midst of their extreme emotional turmoil?

Help arrived with phone calls from Susan Webb, Collin County District Attorney's Office Victim Assistance Coordinator, and Rachel Lee, Collin County Sheriff's Office Crime Victim Liaison. At the request of the families, they arranged to meet with them as a group in the McKinney Police Department Conference Room.

The applications were faxed to the Texas Attorney General's Crime Victims' Compensation Program later that afternoon and by the next morning all had been approved. Candace Yocum, CVC Reimbursement Officer, received the four claims from the eligibility section, flagged for prompt processing. Candace worked closely with the funeral home director regarding payment. Each family was approved for the maximum allowable for burial expenses and counseling expenses may be approved for years to come.

Candace Yocum came to the AG's office with a great deal of experience. For 15 years she adjudicated Social Security disability claims for the Texas Rehabilitation Commission. Candace later worked for the Texas Workforce Commission as a customer service representative for 4 years before joining the OAG.

Lori Harvell has been with the City of McKinney for almost 20 years, including 17 years with the police department. She has been their crime victim liaison for 9 years and said this was one of the most difficult cases she has ever had to face. It was manageable due to the cooperative inter-agency efforts of her office, and those of the Collin County sheriff, district attorney, and the Attorney General's Crime Victims' Compensation program.

Rachel Lee is the administrative secretary for the Criminal Investigations Division of the Collin County Sheriff's Office. She has been with them for 12 years, and for 10 of those years she has also been their crime victim liaison. She clearly remembers the meeting, held in the conference room at the sheriff's office, with the bereaved families. She said it was very emotional and that they were in a state of disbelief that the unimaginable could have happened to their loved ones.

Susan Webb has been a Victim/Witness Coordinator with the Collin County District Attorney's office since 1993. Providing service and assisting crime victims through the judicial process are her passion, not simply her job. "It is such a blessing to have a great team of coordinators/liaisons always willing to help one another throughout our county. The AG's office has always had a great turnaround time for us. Communication and teamwork are the keys."

Nearly two years later, the investigation is still open and the murders are unsolved. It is suspected that one of the victims was probably the primary target. She worked at a local check cashing business and it is believed the perpetrators came to her home with the intent of forcing her to provide access to the cash. Her nephew was out with two friends at a local pizza restaurant. When the three teenagers returned they walked into a violent crime in progress. Circumstances point to the conclusion that they may have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. It cost them their lives.

Two men were subsequently arrested, but without enough evidence, the charges were dropped and they were released. MPD detectives believe there may be three or four people responsible for the murders and are hoping for information that will lead to a break in the case.

The crime victim services provided to the victims' families by dedicated employees of four different agencies are proof that working together, we can make a positive difference in the lives of the people we serve.

Donna Lee of the OAG's Public Information & Assistance Division submitted this article.