As gas prices increase, so do drive-offs

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 21, 2005

Last Friday, July 15, as the work week was wrapping up and most folks were heading home, or to the beach, or other destinations via the highways, there were gas drive-offs at three separate central Suffolk gas stations in the course of less than ninety minutes.

Between 4:15 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. stores on Wilroy Road, Carolina Road, and Pruden Boulevard all reported gas drive-offs, apparently heisted literally in broad daylight.

In the last month, the national gas price average has gone from $2.14 to $2.30 per gallon.

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Statewide, prices in Virginia have risen from $2.08 per gallon to $2.24 since June 18.

Currently around Suffolk’s stations, prices vary from $2.08 to $2.31 a gallon.

It would seem to add up that, in general, higher gas prices lead to more willingness to pump and run.

So far year-to-date in 2005, according to the Suffolk Police Department, there have been 252 reported incidents of gas theft in Suffolk.

That is a 27.9 percent increase over a year ago up until the same date (197 incidents through July 18, 2004).

&uot;I would think that the higher prices have something to do with the number of drive-offs,&uot; said Lt. Debbie George of the Suffolk Police Department.

George also has a list of steps managers of gas stations can take to stem the rising numbers, such as asking customers to pre-pay for gas, using cameras positioned to view vehicles coming and going, and the use of loud-speakers, &uot;so someone inside the store can talk to the customers and let them know they’ve seen them.&uot;

According to the Virginia Petroleum, Convenience, and Grocery Association, just over $1,200 a year is the average loss per gas station due to drive-offs. That totals about $5 million lost for the whole Commonwealth annually.

On three occasions in the last five years, the General Assembly has passed legislation stepping up the penalties for gas drive-offs.

In 2000, fines for first time offenders and added driver’s license suspensions for the second offense were put on the books.

Last year, the Assembly made gas drive-offs a larceny, meaning repeat offenders can be sentenced to prison time.

This year in the last legislative session, the fine for stealing gas was raised from $100 to $250.