Billy Romero knew people were upset with members of the Taos Planning and Zoning Commission, including himself, Thursday night (May 18) after they voted to send an application for a four-story hotel to the town council.
Now he thinks someone was so upset they slashed all the tires on the delivery and service trucks at his propane delivery business on Paseo del Pueblo Sur after the meeting that night.
"Someone came in and slashed all the tires on our two big propane trucks and on the service truck and on a trailer attached to it," said Romero, who owns Río Grande Propane. He estimates there was a total of $8,000 to $10,000 in damage.
Lt. David Maggio, acting police chief at Taos Police Department, confirmed the vandalism but said as of Saturday morning (May 20) there were no witnesses or video that clearly shows the incident.
"We've been back here forever and outside of a few broken windows, we've never had an incident, not like this," Romero said.
"This didn't just affect us, it affected our customers," said Romero, who spent Friday morning (May 19) scrambling around, calling his friends with big trucks so he could borrow tires and make his deliveries. "It was a true community effort to get me back on the road."
He said it will take a week for new tires to get shipped to Taos to replace the slashed ones.
Romero thinks he was targeted.Pueblo Balloon has chase vehicles and balloon trailers stored on Romero's property right next to his big propane trucks. The tires on that company's vehicles weren't touched, he said."No other vandalism was done to other buildings or vehicles. This appears to be a deliberate act directed at me," Romero said. "I'm calling it more than a coincidence."
Romero was the commissioner who seconded the motion at Thursday's meeting to recommend the hotel project move forward to the town council for a vote. Five of the six commissioners present at the meeting voted to recommend the hotel; one recused himself.
"We don't base our decision off of our opinion. It is based off of the code," Romero said. "We rejected it three times. The developer came back for the final time with all of the changes that had been asked of him to meet the code. At that point, we're not the ones who decide. We just move it along to the council for their decision."
Still, Romero said, people were "irate" at the meeting, but he didn't think they meant serious harm because the hotel issue is not the first controversial project to come before the commission. "This one, for some reason, people were 10 times more agitated than I have seen them in the past," he said.
Romero checked his business property at 10:30 p.m. after the meeting adjourned and everything seemed fine, he said.
Then his son, who went to open the business early in the morning, called him at 7:45 a.m. to tell him all the tires had been cut. "At first, I thought he was telling me a bad joke," Romero said on Friday afternoon.
Romero said video footage from a security camera showed what appeared to be two people walking from a nearby property next to his business, climbing the fence and entering the propane yard. He said it's hard to tell if they are male or female or whether there were any distinguishing characteristics.
He said the video cameras don't actually show them slashing the tires, only shadows moving among the vehicles. He said a surveillance camera across the street from his business shows the two people leaving his property at 11:15 p.m.
He called the other commissioners to find out if any of their properties had been vandalized. None had been, he said. But his family's business, at its current location for decades, is easily visible from the main road.
Romero said he has mixed feelings about what happened: shock and anger mixed with sadness.
"I would never have expected this, but after last night, I wonder if this is what the town is coming to, that this is what happens if they don't agree with you," Romero said.
Police are investigating the incident.
Romero said he is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those involved in the vandalism.