Like prices, gasoline thefts rocketing up

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 14, 2004

Since gas prices have risen to $2 a gallon motorists have shown their frustrations in many ways.

Some have cut down on travel. Others have protested.

Many motorists have even traded in their gas guzzling automobiles for a more efficient form of transportation.

There also exists another group set out on getting revenge from the gas companies.

These people choose to simply drive away from the pump without paying.

Those who commit these crimes often justify it by telling themselves that they are just striking a blow for the little man. They often tell themselves one little tank of gas can’t hurt.

This is still a crime. It still appears as theft of property on the police report and someone will still have to pay.

Nationally, gasoline drive-offs have already added up to an estimated $112 million.

Locally, gas stations are seeing the increase as well.

Sharath Chigurupapi, who manages the Greenville BP, said gas drive-offs have appeared out of nowhere at his pumps.

&uot;Basically, we had no drive-offs before,&uot; said Chigurupapi. &uot;Ever since the prices have gone up we have had a couple of drive offs. Before there were zero, but recently we have had a couple of incidents where people have driven-off without paying.&uot;

The Greenville Chevron Station and Auto Wash has also seen an increase.

&uot;It’s been pretty drastic since last month,&uot; said manager Jerry Wasden. &uot;People are catching us at a busy time and when they leave they just lay the pump down and drive away.&uot;

Wasden said the Chevron is taking measures to prevent the drive-offs.

&uot;After dark we are about to go pre-pay,&uot; said Wasden. &uot;Most of them are coming after dark so that is about all we can do.&uot;

Tom Matthews, manager of the Shell Depot on Fort Dale Road, said the drive-offs hurt more because of the increasing costs to the stations.

&uot;People are stealing the same amount of gas when they drive off, but the value is a lot more,&uot; said Matthews. &uot;There are a lot more dollars involved when people pull a drive- off.&uot;

Matthews said his store has also taken preventative measures against gas thefts.

&uot;We have made our pump six a pre-pay pump,&uot; said Matthews. &uot;The rest are close enough we can keep an eye on them. We had to make that one a pre-pay though.&uot;

Greenville Police Chief Lonzo Ingram said over Memorial Day weekend the preventative measures showed results.

&uot;We only had one drive-off reported over the weekend,&uot; said Ingram. &uot;Things were pretty steady.&uot;

Ingram said that getting the gas pre-paid was a good way to help bring down the number of thefts.

&uot;Getting the gas pre-paid for is a good thing,&uot; said Ingram. &uot;It may not always be practical with the number of pumps that some people have, but it is a good idea.&uot;

Ingram said that another way to cut down on the thefts is having attentive attendants.

&uot;We just ask them to be attentive and to get the tag numbers or any other information from the people that drive off,&uot; said Ingram. &uot;That will help us to apprehend them.&uot;

No matter how a person justifies it gas drive-offs are a form of stealing.

Those who are caught will be punished. Those who steal gas will find that it is much cheaper to pay the gas prices than the fines that may come from drive-offs.