SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The first vehicle killed her, authorities said. The second vehicle hit her dead body.
Katrina Wind was 21 when her body was found on South Dakota Highway 281 on Jan. 1, 1986, in Aberdeen.
Retired law officer Phil Toft was working for the Brown County Sheriff’s Office in 1986. He was one of the officers at the scene.
Toft recalled that the coroner ruled the first vehicle killed Wind. A couple in the second vehicle that struck Wind called police.
It was about 5:17 a.m. when Wind’s dead body was reported.
At least three agencies, the county sheriff’s office, the Aberdeen Police and the South Dakota Highway Patrol responded to the incident.
Law enforcement never made an arrest. The case is still unsolved.
Tami (Wind) Azure, one of Wind’s older sisters, isn’t hopeful about solving her sister’s death.
“I think it’s been too long…,” Azure said. She also has some concerns about the investigation and how local police handled her concerns about Wind earlier that night.
Yet, Azure was willing to a phone interview KELOLAND News to help the public understand who her sister was.
Belinda Joe sat under a tree at Falls Park in Sioux Falls on a late afternoon in June.
As families and couples milled about the large, popular park, Joe recalled how her family had lost some of its harmony when her cousin Wind died in a hit and run.
In 1991, Joe and other family members had a ceremony for Wind near where she found on that winter’s day.
“In Dakota culture, if a person dies violently, their souls are not at rest,” Joe said. The purpose of the ceremony, “was to help her cross over.”
Justice, she said, can be a “slow moving process” especially when it comes to native people, Joe said.
A news clipping from the American News in Aberdeen about a marker placed where Katrina Wind was found dead in 1986. Wind’s cousin Belinda Joe and Estella Pretty Sounding Flute conducted a ceremony in 1991 to help Wind’s spirit to move on. Clipping provided by the Aberdeen library.
Although Azure agrees to do a phone interview to talk about her sister, Katrina, she’s a busy person so the interview is re-scheduled to allow Azure to run errands for others who live on the Crow Creek Reservation, near Fort Thompson.
Wind lived on the reservation in South Dakota but also lived with a relative in California. She always wanted to return to live in California, Azure said.
Wind loved her daughter, Azure said.
“She was real soft spoken, quiet,” Azure said. “There wasn’t a mean bone in her body.”
Back in 1986, Azure and another sister of Wind’s all lived in Aberdeen. Wind had just moved there a few months prior.
Azure said she, Wind and another friend had been celebrating New Year’s Eve. Eventually, Azure said, she and her friend were ready to go home and stay home. Wind was not and she did not come home. She started walking down a street, Azure said.
Azure said she was worried about her young sister. She called the local police. This wouldn’t be the first time she’d call the cops about her sister that night.
“The first time I called the cops I said, ‘I’m concerned for her,'” Azure said. “I wanted the cops to put her in jail to protect herself. I was afraid something would happen to her.”
Wind returned to the apartment about an hour or two later, Azure said.
Around 1 or 2 a.m., Wind “went out the door. I chased her down the street…she wouldn’t come back,” Azure said.
Azure said she called the police a second time.
Shortly after 5 a.m., “There was a knock on the door,” Azure said.
A cop had arrived, she said, to tell her her younger sister was dead.
Toft was that cop.
I will never forget telling the family. That was an awful day. One of the worst of my career.Phil Toft
Toft left Brown County in 1987 for a job with the Minnehaha County Sheriff’s Department. Toft was with Minnehaha County until 2008 when he joined the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation before he retired in 2014.
Wind had a four-year-old daughter.
When Toft arrived, “we tried to take her into another room,” Azure said.
But the daughter knew. “She came out and said, ‘Mommy’s gone,'” Azure said.
Thirty-five years later the memory is vivid. Toft paused as if to add the years, the daughter “she’d be almost 40 now,” he said.
The truck stop at the corner of U.S. Highway 12 and South Dakota Highway 281 is a busy place.
“As you are just coming into town,” Toft said of the truck stop’s location.
Wind’s body was found on the highway, just south of the truck stop.
“She was already on the ground,” Toft said of where Wind was when she was struck by the second vehicle.
“I thought she got shot when I first saw her,” Azure said. There was a one-inch gash on her forehead and an eyelid was torn, Azure said.
“She had blood on her clothes. A contusion on her head,” Toft said.
“There was fresh fallen snow,” Toft said.
The snow provided a “pristine” pallet for law enforcement to trace Wind’s path. “We followed her tracks back to the north. She was walking back and forth, meandering (into the highway). She had walked roughly half a mile,” Toft said.
Azure knew her sister had been drinking on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Still, “hitting her and taking off. What kind of person does that? Do they have no conscience?”
“Intoxicated or not,” this was not a way for someone to die, Azure said.
Azure said she called police twice that night in an attempt to keep Wind safe.
Police responded, she said. She was told an “officer said he had seen her walking and had picked her up,” Azure said. Azure said she was told the police officer brought Wind home.
But Wind didn’t come home, Azure said. Azure said the officer dropped Wind at a trailer where she did not live.
“We used to live in there,” Azure said. “He said she went in but she didn’t know anyone there.”
A Jan. 2, 1987, story in the Aberdeen News said the police officer said apparently Wind never went to the door of the trailer.
It appeared that Wind left the trailer area and headed to Highway 281, law enforcement said in the 1987 story.
Joe still has her own questions about Wind’s death. Did something happen in the trailer? Did something happen elsewhere? Did Wind die because a vehicle hit her?
“You can get pushed on the side of a highway,” Joe said.
The Jan. 2, 1987, news story said an accident reconstruction expert said Wind could have fallen, which would have caused some injuries but law officers were firm that the extent of Wind’s injuries show that a first vehicle killed her and a second vehicle hit her after death.
To Joe, the key is a party that Wind had apparently attended.
“Something seems out of place that no one has said anything…,” Joe said.
Joe also said there was no autopsy of Wind’s body. An autopsy may have revealed other factors about the day Wind died, she said.
Azure can’t understand why the driver of vehicle who hit someone didn’t stop. Or why after all these years, they never came forward.
But like Joe, she is also troubled by the trailer.
“This is one of the cases that has always bothered me in my 33 years in law enforcement,” Toft said.
“We followed some tips but there was never a suspect,” Toft said.
Brown County Sheriff Mark Milbrandt was on the county department in 1986. Milbrandt said the evidence was gathered and kept but since Wind’s body was found on a highway, the South Dakota Highway Patrol would have been the lead investigative unit.
Tony Mangan, the spokesman for the Highway Patrol, said the agency was the lead investigator on the death.
“I don’t think we’ve had any tips for several years,” Milbrandt said. “We had a couple way back when.”
Azure said she’s not hopeful the case will be solved.
“I think they just didn’t want to go through the trouble,” Azure said of law enforcement. It was an attitude of “‘She’s dead. There’s nothing we can do about it,'” she said.
“Sometimes, Native cases can be overlooked. That’s just the way it is in South Dakota,” Joe said.
But that’s not true in this case, Toft said.
“From myself, that would be total baloney,” Toft said. “I looked into the little girl’s eyes, into the sister’s eyes.”
“It was a death and we take all deaths seriously,” Milbrandt said.
Toft said that 1986 is very different from 2021 in terms of how law enforcement uses social media and seeks public help.
“I know information went out but we didn’t have cell phones…,” Toft said of the Wind case.
Toft said a few years after Wind’s death, law enforcement used reconstruction to create an image from a skull that had been found in a road ditch. The sketch was released to the public and Georgianne Walking Bull was identified, he said.
Toft has worked other deaths during his law enforcement career.
“I always thought someone would come forward,” Toft said of Wind’s death. “I’ve done enough homicide cases where almost always someone comes forward (with information).”
He hopes that another news story in 2021 could lead to more information.
“I would love to have this solved,” Toft said.
“What I would like is to see some truth and validation and some healing,” Joe said.
She’d especially like that for Wind’s daughter.