On a grassy patch of Lake Highlands Park grows a sort of local celebrity.

"Everybody notices it when they drive by from work," said David Cunningham, who lives nearby.

It's a tree with a shape so unique it's become a point of neighborhood pride.

"It has always been the landmark tree," said area resident Amy Martin.

But last Thursday, it was left in pieces, courtesy of one man caught in the act.

"If we hadn’t stopped him he would have taken the whole tree," Martin said.

Albert Santos
Albert Santos

She captured photos that Thursday afternoon when police arrested 65-year-old Albert Santos for criminal mischief. Officers say he loaded up a trailer with huge swaths of the tree estimated to be 10 years his senior.

"I don’t know what he was really thinking," Cunningham said.

So what brought Santos to a neighborhood that's not his own, where he spotted the tree and took out his chainsaw? Our first clue is on his public Facebook page. He’s posed for a picture in front of firewood, and his comments ask people to buy from his supply.

We confirmed it outside his home in Dallas, where he’s still selling, according to a sign in his front yard. We asked to speak with Santos or for any comment, and his family declined.

The only comfort for neighbors comes from the sawed off tree’s tiny signs of life. There's a sprout near the end of the trunk that gives them hope, and something to defend for its next 75 years.