City seeing significant increase in gas drive-offs in recent months

Clovis has seen a rise in gas thefts in recent months, with 10 already this month and 42 in the month of May. CNJ photo illustration by Eric Kluth

By Mike Linn: CNJ NEWS EDITOR

As the sun sets on Friday and Saturday nights, Claud Washburn keeps his eyes peeled for gas smugglers.

The assistant manager of Allsup’s on the corner 11th and Mitchell streets said the recent rise in gas prices has prompted more stolen gas attempts at his station — especially at night on the weekends.

“We don’t really have that many driveoffs until gas prices go up. Once gas prices go up we get a little more wary of it because we’re expecting it more,” Washburn said.

In May the Clovis Police Department logged 42 gas thefts, up from an average of 24 the previous three months.

Regular gas prices in Clovis climbed 46 cents a gallon from February to June, reaching an average high of $1.94 a gallon on June 3.

Capt. Leon Morris said the increase in stolen gas is “substantial” and could very well be due to the increase in gasoline prices.

Most of the thefts at Washburn’s station are during the late evening hours on Friday and Saturday nights, when some youngsters like to cruise Main Street.
Washburn said about one in every six gas thieves will be caught, and he has employed various methods to keep the number of gas thefts at bay.

For example, at night Washburn will often ask gas customers to prepay for their gas if he doesn’t recognize or get a good description of their car.

His gas computer — he calls it “Rosie” — will automatically beep when a customer hangs up the gas nozzle. When he hears the beep he knows to check to make sure the buyer hasn’t decided to take off.

That method doesn’t always work, though. Some gas thieves will put the nozzle on the ground after pumping the gas, which won’t trigger the computer.

Morris said Clovis police will immediately pursue a gas thief when the description of the suspect and his vehicle make an arrest possible.

“If we get a license plate (number) the rate would increase substantially,” Morris said.

Typically, local gas station attendants would need to file a police report the following day.

Morris said information that can help lead to an arrest include the make, model and color of the car, as well as how many occupants and the license plate number.

Stealing gas is a misdemeanor offense.