Local service stations struggle with gas theft

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 20, 2004

People may think with rising gas prices driveoffs would be a problem everywhere. In Butler County, this is not the case. While driveoffs are a problem in many areas there are some that have been able to avoid this costly crime.

One location where driveoffs are a problem is Fort Dale Road. It's close location to the Interstate make for easy and fast getaways. Often drivers can leave the scene with a full tank and be on Interstate 65 before anyone even knows what is going on.

The Greenville Shell Depot is one of the stations in this location that has been forced to take preventative action.

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"After we had a problem with driveoffs we were forced to make everything prepay," said Shell Depot Store Manager Tom Matthews. "We have not had so many since we made everything prepay."

Matthews said while the prepay system is effective it angers the honest patrons of his store.

"People get angry with the prepay system," said Matthews. "They think we are treating everyone like a criminal. They may be honest, but there are some people who aren't. Because of that we have to have the prepay system."

Matthews said many of the other alternatives have simply proven to be ineffective. Prepay cuts out the problem altogether where if customers haven't paid for gasoline, they will get no gasoline.

"People say we should put up cameras, but it just doesn't always work," said Matthews. "We just want people to understand that we are running a business and not to get angry with us."

The lack of markup has made it increasingly difficult for service stations to continue to profit with driveoffs.

"There is no markup on gasoline right now," said Matthews. "We are not making money when people are driving off."

Just down the road at Brown's 66 Mini Mart they have also experienced driveoffs.

"We have had a few driveoffs," said cashier Sylvia McCormick. "It has been about the same I guess."

McCormick said they have not gone to the prepay system. Because they have few pumps they are able to keep a close eye on them.

"We just watch our pumps really closely," said McCormick. "That's about the only measure we take. If we see someone getting into their car to drive off we come out the door."

The Greenville Citgo, which is located on the Luverne Highway has not fallen victim to driveoffs. Those at the store credit it to their local customers. Most of the merchants who visit the Citgo are regulars.

"We don't really have a lot of that over here," said clerk Sharee White. "Most of our customers are everyday customers so it isn't really a problem."

White felt location had a lot to do with driveoffs.

"I would think there are a lot more on the Interstate," said White. "That location makes it easier for them to get away. We don't really have to take a lot of measures against it because we know most of our customers."

Butler County Sheriff Diane Harris said she believes as long as prices rise the driveoffs will continue.

"With the high prices they will continue to skyrocket," said Harris. "They are increasing."

Harris said there are preventative measures that can be take.

"People can make them pay beforehand," said Harris. "There are other methods such as spike barriers and such but the owners would have to pay for them. People should remember that those who drive off can also lose their license when caught."

She also said that the Interstate was not the only place hit heavy by theft.

"Stations in the south end of the county are getting quite a few too," she said. "They think that after they drive off a deputy will be too far away to catch them."

While there is no perfect solution to driveoffs, stations can take this advice and try to cut them down.