August 30, 2005 in City

As prices rise , gas thefts more costly for victims

Steven R. Neuman Staff writer
 

Thieves scaled 6-foot razor-wire-topped fences and cracked locks under the light of Friday’s half moon to get at their loot. At current prices, they made off with more than $350 in liquid assets – siphoned straight from the gas tanks of a fleet of trucks.

The thieves took 130 gallons of gasoline out of seven vehicles belonging to Spokane-based Professional Insulation, which is owned by Moria and Paul Martin.

As gas prices nationwide have hit record highs and with experts warning that prices will continue to climb, gasoline-related crime has become more costly to Inland Northwest victims.

“This wasn’t a bunch of teenagers who needed a few gallons. That’s been going on forever. This was organized,” Paul Martin said, citing the many containers one would need to make off with so much gas. The burglars also ignored the three diesel vehicles, although they successfully broke into the tanks. Martin speculated that the plain gasoline would be easier to sell to the average money-crunched driver.

“This is the tip of the iceberg. It’s going to happen to people with their cars parked in front of their houses, or even at the mall,” Paul Martin said. “We have to look out for each other.”

Elsewhere in Spokane, for example, a thief used a stolen Shell credit card to rack up “huge gasoline bills,” according to the Spokane police.

Already-steep gas prices are expected to rise.

Eastern Washington AAA spokesman Dave Overstreet said Monday that the average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline in Spokane jumped 3 cents overnight. Monday morning averages calculated by the organization, which polls more than 60,000 stations nationally each day, stood at $2.71 per gallon of regular gasoline in the city.

In Idaho, the average price per gallon was lower, at $2.57.

“As the price of gas gets higher and higher, these types of things, like people driving off, they’re always going to increase,” Overstreet said.

Spokane police spokesman Dick Cottam said drive-offs at filling stations happen every day, but high gas prices give thieves more reason for filling up without paying. He said he has seen only a minor increase.

“The people who are going to steal are the people who are always going to steal. The average person isn’t going to steal because gas is costing a dollar more,” Cottam said. “They probably think the gas station is making a big profit, but I don’t think they’re making more than a few cents on the gallon.”

Ben Wolfinger, Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department spokesman, said there had been some drive-offs in the area, but no more than usual.

The high price of even short commutes is driving some workers to abandon their cars.

Aurora Crooks, spokeswoman for Spokane County Commute Trip Reduction program, said the organization’s employee transportation coordinators, who work within large employers in Spokane, have noticed a marked difference in commuters since gas rates rose.

“Coordinators are saying that people are seeking them out saying, ‘How can I get into a carpool?’ ‘How can I take the bus?’ ” Crooks said.


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