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Gasoline thefts plague some fleet owners

Tom Banse
In Olympia, Sergey Kazanchev, manager of the Budget Truck Rental agency, examines the repair on a fuel line sliced by a thief.

Yet, some rental companies and fleet owners say they’re being persistently and repeatedly hit by gas thieves. Some of the victims believe a syndicate must be at work, but police are not so sure.

The Budget Truck Rental branch in Olympia has been victimized by a gasoline thief not once, not twice, but TWELVE times so far this year.

“It’s just frustration, you know that constant battle. You have to deal with it over and over again. You feel like you cannot do anything,” says Sergey Kazanchev.

Sergey Kazanchev manages the rental agency. It faces a busy street just a block and a half from the main Olympia police station. He says each time the thief or thieves siphon or drain the tanks of three to four trucks in the middle of the night.

“Usually, what they do is either suck it out, or worse they cut the (gas) line, which is more damage to the truck.”

Other fleet owners from Olympia to Tacoma have been repeatedly hit this year as well. They include U-Haul rental outlets, a medical supply company, and a charity non-profit.

At Budget, Kazanchev says the thieves make off with 50 to 60 gallons of unleaded at a time, sometimes more.

“It’s not like one person who’s out of gas and needs to fill up his car to go to Portland. It is definitely somewhat organized because there is no way you can carry five gallon buckets or you know... They should have 50 gallon drums or something to put all this fuel in," said Kazanchev.

.Neither the victims nor the police see a correlation between the thefts and the current price of gas. Olympia Police Commander Thor Bjornstad suspects the thief or thieves might just be drug addicted.

“Any kind of a commodity such as gas can be traded for other things. What it is frequently traded for around here is like methamphetamine and other drugs,” said Bjornstad.

Bjornstad advises fleet owners to invest in steps to secure their vehicles at night. That could include fencing off the parking lot, surveillance cameras, using flood lights or locking gas caps.

This summer, cops in nearby Lacey caught a gasoline thief red handed siphoning gas tanks at a U-Haul lot. The suspect spent two nights in jail. Then county prosecutors declined to press charges.

We’d like to know from you how widespread gas thievery might be. If you know of a local business that’s had a lot of gas stolen recently, please leave a comment.

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.