Martin Villanueva didn't mind the first time his tires were punctured. He knew how to repair the drill-holes -- take a nail, take a bit of adhesive and call it good. He was frustrated, sure. But these things happen. Random day, random car.
Then it happened again. Nails, adhesive, frustration. And it happened again, and again, and again. And Villanueva's nail stock ran low and his budget ran lower, new tires purchased after every few punctures.
And a pattern, beginning nearly three years ago in Edinburg, began to grow. The holes, those automotive stigmata, came only when Villanueva's car was sitting in the parking lot of a new church he was visiting. They came only when he skipped out on his traditional place of Catholic worship, Edinburg's Holy Family Church, and settled into another pew on Sunday mornings.
The whole time, Villanueva suspected. The location, and timing -- it all pointed to one individual. It all pointed to a jilted love. It all pointed to a friend-cum-vagrant, a priest, Eusebio Martinez, who believed that he and Villanueva should maintain more than a simple pastor-parishioner relationship.
"When I met when him, I was building a house for him," Villanueva told Hair Balls on Friday. A relationship developed, and flowered. It grew far quicker than Villanueva would have preferred. "He wanted me to be real close, wanted to be a real good friend. And then he wanted to be in control of myself."
Villanueva won't detail the conversation the two had in early 2010, but, according to Valley Central, Martinez wanted something more than a platonic relationship the two had developed. According to Villanueva, Martinez insisted on saying "'I love you' and wanting me to kiss him when we said 'hello' or 'goodbye.'"
"I stopped talking to him," Villanueva told Hair Balls. "I don't feel like I'm a man no more. I don't want to be friends no more."
And so, Villanueva went off in search of a new church. And as he was sampling McAllen's different options, someone kept turning his tires to Swiss cheese.
After one-too-many turns at repairing his tires -- was it the eighth time? tenth? twelfth? -- Villanueva finally decided to install video cameras in his car. The pattern had run for two years. Three months later, the pattern continued, this time caught on film.
The stop-motion footage shows a man in a low-hung ballcap walking past Villanueva's car, bending over with a drill in his hand. His facial hair matches Martinez's. His build, his bone structure, his height -- all mirror the priest who a few years prior had asked for Villanueva's love. And here were the fruits of that love, caught in a half-dozen still-frames.
Here was the proof -- and here was Villanueva, torn.
"It took about three months before I could catch him," Villanueva said. "But even after the camera, I knew that I don't want to catch him. I didn't want to catch him. I just prayed that he would change his heart."
But Martinez -- or this man who looks exactly like Martinez, at least -- didn't. And he didn't stop at the church lots either. Villanueva went to McDonald's and IHOP with his family, only to find another flat. He brought his family into town, and the bored holes followed. And that was enough for a man as forgiving and pious as Villanueva could to be.
"Why I decided to catch him was because he start puncturing my tires when I'm with my family," Villanueva said. "After he did that with family, you know, he just doesn't care no more."
With Villanueva turning his video and his claims to the local police, Martinez was arrested Thursday morning, his bond set at $2,000. The local diocese would not return calls for this story, but released a statement noting the priest, who had worked at Holy Family for four years, had been placed on administrative leave.
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There's another matter, too, which Villanueva wouldn't speak about. The man's a builder, and it seems that during the same time-frame as his punched tired, someone's taken to torching at least five of the buildings he'd been constructing. According to the Rio Grande Monitor, a video has surfaced showing a man setting at least one blaze. Martinez was subsequently questioned a person of interest, but no charges have yet been leveled.
"On my case, [Martinez's] name just came up as person of interest, but he hasn't been charged or anything," said Mission fire Lt. Joe Luna. Luna confirmed a video of the fire has been recovered, "[but] my case is an ongoing investigation, so I can't say too much."
But because it's not his surveillance tape, though, Villanueva wouldn't finger the priest for those fires. Instead, he's sticking simply to the tires, and trying to weather a community that can't square Villanueva's claims.
"Everybody loves [Martinez]," Villanueva said. "Everyone loves the church. I'm still Catholic, but now I have to go to another church. Few people understand."