Gasoline drive-offs on the rise

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By ERIC OLSON : The Herald-Sun
Mar 15, 2002 : 9:56 pm ET
DURHAM -- It's a crime of opportunity, and everyone pays.
A driver fills his or her tank with gas, notices a clerk busy with customers and
pulls away with the stolen fuel.
"It's a serious issue," said Tom Crosby, the vice president of communications for
AAA Carolinas. "It drives up the price of gas, and it also inconveniences you
because now many places make you go in to pay for gas in advance."
Through Friday, thieves had pilfered petrol 83 times this year in Durham, or just
over once a day, according to Durham police statistics. In the fourth quarter of last
year, 100 gasoline thefts were reported in Durham.
In December, a new law increased the penalty for those convicted of stealing gas.
Larceny of gas is still a misdemeanor, but at a higher level.
If convicted, defendants have their name reported to the N.C. Department of Motor
Vehicles. On subsequent offenses within a seven-year period, they can have their
license suspended.
Tom Hittle, director of internal affairs for the Pantry Inc., which owns 1,300
stations in the Southeast, said the law should help.
"It's kind of like the weather: It changes," Hittle said. "We're happy that the state
did pass legislation that if you're caught and convicted, you are susceptible to
losing your license."
But he said further legislation is needed.
"We would like to see legislation to force our customers to pay first," Hittle said.
"That would prevent it, but unfortunately there isn't legislation and our competition
doesn't want to change."
Although such a law would severely reduce the convenience factor for people
pumping gas, Crosby said it is the only way to put an end to the problem.
"That's how it's prevented," he said. "The pumps don't turn on until you use a
credit card or you go inside and pay with cash."

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