Crime lab backlogs delay cases like Shawnee hit-and-run

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SHAWNEE, Kan. -- Nearly ten weeks after a hit-and-run that nearly killed a Shawnee, Kan., woman no charges have been filed, despite knowing who did it. But stories like this are happening nationwide thanks to major back-ups in crime labs.

Lee Helfrich was nearly killed Dec. 30 while walking her dog along Midland Drive.

Despite police knowing who the driver is and a shattered windshield as evidence, there hasn't been much movement in the case.

And that surprises Helfrich's husband, Dale.

"I accepted the fact that okay, a couple of weeks, but now as it continues to go on now I hear six months to a year, that seems pretty unacceptable," he said.

Major Bill Hisle with Shawnee police said the hold-up to this case, like so many, is the backlog at metro crime labs.

"In almost all crime scenes now we're collecting DNA... Unfortunately, that inundates the crime labs with DNA samples which are really backlogged," said Hisle.

The Helfrich case doesn't involve DNA, but it does involve blood and urine. While police are pretty sure the driver wasn't drunk, they are waiting on crime lab tests to be sure.

"If it takes 90 days, it takes 90 days, if it takes 180 or a year that's just the amount of time it takes," Hisle said. "This is a case where someone was injured in an accident, there's no criminal intent and so that case just doesn't get worked as quickly as maybe some sort of violent felony."

The Helfrich's said they are not mad at police who, they say, have done an outstanding job investigating their case. Nor do they blame the crime lab or prosecutors. They call the wait "frustrating" while the accused remains free.

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