Two guys pull up to a gas station. They park their vehicle, a bread delivery truck, at a pump. What appears to be a simple self-serve gas transaction quickly turns nefarious when one of the men removes the lid from an underground tank beneath the truck. They prepare to dangle a pump, attached to a 1,000-gallon gas tank inside the truck, into the underground reservoir and begin siphoning out huge quantities of fuel. If not for a watchful gas-station employee, they would have been successful. But instead, police arrive at the station in Davis, Calif., arresting one man and sending the other running.
"This is the first time in my 20-year career that I've seen something like this," Davis Police Lt. Paul Doroshov told a local news station
regarding the incident, which occurred in late March. Yet it's not the first time a theft like this has occurred. As gas prices have climbed this year, thieves have begun setting their sights higher. Instead of hitting individual cars, they're knocking over entire gas stations. The owner of the Valero station in Davis was hit six times in March, losing $8,000 worth of fuel.
In Tampa, Fla., thieves used a similar tactic in late February, parking their minivan, retrofitted with a cutout floorboard, above a gas station's underground tank. Their intention was to funnel gasoline into a large plastic container using a portable pump. But when a local sheriff's deputy, noticing the minivan was parked at a strange angle, went over to investigate, the thieves jumped into another vehicle and sped off. Detectives found several hundred gallons of fuel inside the minivan -- and about 25 gallons spilled on the gas-station pavement.
Unlike in California, Tampa police weren't surprised by the tactic. "We had this problem pretty widespread a couple years ago," Hillsborough County Sheriff's Capt. Andy Ross told the Tampa Bay Times
. "It kind of ebbed. It seems like this is on the uptick again."
The thefts come at a time when gasoline prices are peaking. Florida is the 14th most expensive state for purchasing gas, according to Gasbuddy.com, with prices averaging $3.93 per gallon. California is the third-priciest state, with a gallon coming in at $4.29 on average.
In addition to costing gas-station owners a pretty penny, thefts of this type are dangerous. "You're talking about a lot of vapor, a lot of flammable fluids," Doroshov said. "And the people doing it are not exactly your gas-truck operators that are well-trained."