Gas drive-offs high during Summer 2000

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 12, 2000

Staff Writer

July 12, 2000 10 PM

Most drivers are complaining about the price of gasoline, but there are some who are getting theirs for free.

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Rising gas prices has apparently resulted in an increase in gas drive offs and Troy is not immune, especially since it’s a major thoroughfare to Panama City Beach.

So far, Troy’s numbers are not looking good.

"We’re going to be above average," Sgt. Benny Scarbrough, public information officer for the Troy Police Department, is predicting using numbers to back up that idea.

Already, the TPD has recorded 101 drive offs in only six months. During the entire year of 1999, 161 drive offs were reported.

Comparing the past five years, it looks like the summer of 2000 and its increase in gas prices will have an impact on those not paying at the pump.

Figures provided by the TPD indicate there were 148 drive offs reported in 1998; 175 in 1997 and 139 in 1996.

Scarbrough said if these incidents continue, officers could respond to possible 200 drive offs this year.

Recently, there have been cases where a person has put only a dollar or two worth of gasoline in his or her vehicle.

"Over the past several years we have seen an increase in crimes of this nature," Chief Anthony Everage said.

He believes one thing that can be helpful to law enforcement officers is cooperation by convenience store clerks by getting as much information as possible to police dispatchers and officers.

That information can give the department a "head start" in solving the crime.

Clerks are doing all they can to prevent gas drive offs and help catch those who commit these crimes.

Convenience store clerk Jackie Bryant said she is always "trying to keep an eye on the pumps. It’s kind of hard when you’re busy."

She also asks customer who come in to purchase something if they got any gasoline.

Station owner Ray Grant has been lucky.

"I’ve only had two in two years," Grant said of the number of gas drive offs he’s reported.

But, clerk Michelle Parker has experience the frustration many other clerks endure.

One night while she was working, a man pumped gas into his vehicle then left the pump on the ground "to keep it running" as he drove off without paying.

Parker said she’s had to report several drive offs, but a new system at the station forces people to pre-pay after dark since drive offs "mostly happen at night."

A drive off is classified as a misdemeanor, unless it exceeds $250. A new law recently passed by the Alabama Legislature made the act of driving off without paying a crime, so police no longer have to prove intent to steal.