High gas prices fuel gas drive-offs

By: Melissa Tune Email
By: Melissa Tune Email

News 12 at 11 o'clock, May 29, 2007

With gas prices continuing to skyrocket, local convenience stores are dealing with more and more gas thefts.

Gasoline theft is a more than quarter billion dollar a year problem. We took a look at the problem here in Augusta and the surrounding areas.

In Richmond County alone today, three gas drive-offs were reported. Some days that number is even higher:

"We don't turn (the pumps) on for anybody because of the drive offs and people messing it up for everybody," said store clerk Amy Chason.

Chason says they've been lucky: because customers have to prepay, there's less of a chance they will have a drive off.

"We don't turn the pumps on for anybody unless you're using FuelMan or an in-house account," she said. "You have to prepay at the pump or use your credit card at the pump."

But authorities warn that thieves find ways around the prepay system too. Some will ask clerks to hold their credit cards while they fill up, leaving the clerks with bad or stolen cards.

Chason adds that frequent customers sometimes get upset when they're asked to prepay. She says it's just too risky to trust anybody.

"They get upset because they feel like they shouldn't have to prepay because they come in all the time, but you just can't take that chance," she said. "If we happen to turn on the pump for somebody, and let's just say they happen to not pay for their gas, we are responsible. So that's why we don't just take that chance."

And if you're tempted to drive off without swiping your card or paying for your gas, you might want to think again. In Georgia, driving off without paying for your gas can land you a hefty fine. You could lose your license and you could possibly go to jail.

"I've never had problems paying for gas, but do I know a lot of people who have," said driver Austin Jbaur.

Jbaur says stealing gas is wrong and those who do should think about the consequences.

"I know a friend of ours who got a ticket in the mail for stealing gas, and they didn't catch him on the spot, but they mailed him a ticket," Jbaur said. "He lost his license for a year."

"I wouldn't do that," said driver Justin Moore. But he says with high gas prices, the temptation for many will always be there.

"And that's why they make you prepay at just about every pump you go to now," he said.

"It only takes one to mess it up for everybody," Chason said.

"If the temptation is that high to steal gas...don't go to jail over 20 bucks. That's ridiculous," said Jbaur. "I mean, there's buses all through this town. I mean, get a bicycle. Whatever."

In 1988, Georgia became the first state to suspend a driver's license for a gas theft drive-off.

A violator can be fined up $100 dollars. And if the police can prove you meant to steal it, you could get jail time: up to 60 days. A restoration fee must be paid to get your license back.

In Columbia County between January and May of 2006, there were 53 cases of leaving without paying. This year that number has been cut almost in half to 28.

There were 3 gas drive offs in Richmond County today, and in the city of Aiken, we found at least 1 case of someone leaving the pump and not paying.

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