LA VILLA — Criminal mischief, canine catastrophe, or something else entirely? That’s the question here after Mayor Alma Moron woke up two days before Thanksgiving to find her vehicle damaged in her driveway with a puddle of fluid spilled on the ground.
Moron, who works as an educator in Edinburg, had arrived home safely the night before and was set to enjoy the holiday time off with family. She had gone about her normal routine: parking her car and locking the gate to her property in the tiny sugar mill town in far east Hidalgo County.
The following morning, however, something caught her eye. At first, she assumed the rural wind had blown in a bit of trash. When she got closer, however, she saw that the detritus on the ground was instead part of the front bumper of her Nissan Quest minivan.
The protective fascia underneath the bumper had been pulled off. Plastic tabs that had previously held it secured in place lay scattered across the ground. And the bumper itself showed signs of having been yanked, as well, Moron said.
She called La Villa police, who dispatched an officer to investigate.
Together, the pair discovered more damage. The electrical cables of the vehicle’s alarm system appeared to have been cut. Too, a liquid the officer surmised was brake fluid lay pooled on the ground. When Moron turned the car on to test the brake pedal, it hit the floor.
A photograph of the assembly shows drops of brake fluid hanging from the rubber brake hose near the site of two cracks. Nearby, a wire from what appears to be the vehicle’s ABS system hangs disconnected, with brake fluid spilled along its free end.
“He said, ‘Your brake lines have been cut,’” the mayor recalled of her conversation with the police officer that day. The officer further speculated that perhaps someone had attempted to steal the vehicle, though Moron wondered how they would have gotten past the gate, which remained padlocked.
“I kind of felt a little bit shocked. First of all knowing someone trespassed to do that. And then secondly, I was a little bit stunned to learn that somebody had actually cut the brake lines,” Moron said.
But whether or not the mayor’s vehicle was damaged intentionally remains unclear. Police took fingerprint evidence from the vehicle, but the results could take months to get back, La Villa Police Chief Adolfo Flores said last Wednesday. Prints have to be sent to the DPS crime lab in Austin, and backlogs there will stymie the investigation’s progress.
The chief also said the bumper showed signs of “teeth marks on the fender wall,” speculating perhaps a dog had caused the damage.
Though he was reticent to provide much detail, citing the open investigation, Flores said an initial review of surveillance footage from a nearby property shows no one jumping over the fence onto Moron’s property.
The incident is thus far being investigated as an act of criminal mischief, according to an incident report obtained by The Crier.
Meanwhile, the mayor is hoping police discover answers soon. With no other reports of cars in town being similarly vandalized, she fears there’s one potential possibility for why her van alone was damaged: political retaliation.
“Recently I did announce that I was running for re-election. And I had had my doubts initially because it hasn’t been easy,” Moron said of the upcoming May 2020 election. “This time that I’ve been mayor, it has not been (easy), it’s been like pulling teeth sometimes. And it’s an uphill battle and it was a very contested election,” she said.
Moron was first elected to office in 2016, winning by a four-vote margin which took several recounts to confirm. Then, as now, the mayor campaigned on a platform of reining in unnecessary spending, and in serving “for the right reason.”
“All I’m trying to do is to work with the elected officials that are there, with the city staff, to continue to move our city forward,” Moron said.
The controversies which originally spurred Moron to seek office then have continued to plague the governing body. This May’s election to fill three positions for aldermen included another four-vote-margin race — this time for Place 1 — as well as allegations that some of the candidates were ineligible to hold public office due to questions over their residency, and in one case, pending criminal charges.
Jose Lupe “Joe” Contreras, who won his re-election bid for Place 2, was expected to be arraigned in court Wednesday morning in connection with a 2016 allegation of theft. Contreras, then a Precinct 1 employee of Hidalgo County, is accused of stealing a load of caliche that was owned by the county.
And the board of aldermen’s pattern of cancelling meetings due to a lack of quorum continued last week, when none of the aldermen showed up for Wednesday night’s regular meeting. Mayor Moron, the city administrator and the city attorney waited half an hour before calling the meeting off.