Archive for Thursday, June 14, 2001

High gas prices may fuel thefts at the pump

June 14, 2001

Most people complain about paying high gasoline prices, but some drivers opt not to pay at all.

Casually called "gas-and-gos," drive-away gas thefts have been common in Eudora, but some say higher-than-average gas prices increase their number.

Tom Palace, executive director for the Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association of Kansas, located in Topeka, said people tend to steal more when prices are higher.

But Eudora Police Chief Bill Long disagrees. He doesn't think price makes a difference.

"When it reaches three dollars it will," he said. "We're having a few more (thefts), but we've always had them."

Kwik Shop, 1436 Church Street, has routinely had drive-away gas thefts. Manager Michelle Smith said she's noticed an increase in drive-offs since prices rose, although she attributes the frequency to Kwik Shop's location just off K-10.

Gas thieves usually strike when the shop is busy and other customers distract the clerks, yet the shop doesn't lose too much money because most thefts are nominal, Smith said.

In response to increased theft, some stations require customers to pay at the pump or prepay.

"They won't let us do it because it's not customer-friendly," Smith said.

Douglas County District Attorney Christine Kenny said penalties for gasoline theft, like other thefts, depend on the amount stolen.

"I can't imagine that you would have more than $500," she said. "If you establish a pattern of conduct, like it's the same person every time, that would be a possibility."

Gas theft falls under a class-A misdemeanor, meaning the maximum penalty would be $2,500 and up to one year in jail.

Customers' frustrations with high gas prices are often misdirected, Palace said.

"The clerks themselves are the ones who are pretty berated by the public," Palace said. "That could be my son there behind the counter and I want to take that guy's head off. They think the convenience store is making tons of money, which is not the case. In fact, it's the opposite because the competition down the street dictates the price."

Moreover, the same customers who complain about high prices didn't thank convenience store clerks when prices were at a dollar, he said.

Smith said she understood.

"They're rude, unfortunately," she said. "There's nothing I can do about it."

Palace said he originally thought prices would reach $2 per gallon by Memorial Day, but now the price outlook depends on how quickly refineries can refine the crude oil.

Prices in Eudora decreased steadily last week, but some prices in Lawrence are below $1.50.

High prices are supposed to discourage consumption, but Palace said surveys show that people with incomes higher than $75,000 will fill their tanks for summer road trips or find alternative methods of travel, regardless of price.

Palace said he saw plenty of gas-guzzling recreational vehicles on a recent trip to South Dakota, and suburban utility vehicles are still big sellers.

"They're going to complain about the price of gas, though," he said.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.