Rising gasoline prices spur thefts, violence
Many station owners switching to prepay policy to deter crime


Updated: 11:44 a.m. ET Aug. 23, 2005

MONTGOMERY, Alabama - The death of an Alabama service station owner illustrates the point that a gasoline industry group makes over and over to its members: Losing money during a drive-off isn’t worth losing your life.

Husain “Tony” Caddi, 54, died Friday after being run over by a driver who police believe wasn’t going to pay for $52 worth of fuel. Police are searching for the driver of the gold or tan Jeep-style SUV.

With gasoline prices soaring, industry experts predict the number of drive-offs — and violence — will increase.

“It’s a very difficult situation, and you’re never sure how people are going to react,” said Sam Turner, president of Calfee Co. of Dalton, Ga., which operates 114 Favorite Markets convenience stores in the South.

“It’s something on everybody’s mind right now because it’s a commodity that virtually everybody uses. You’re talking about a heck of an impact to their billfold.”

The Petroleum & Convenience Marketers of Alabama tells gas retailers to never take action themselves during robberies and drive-offs, said Arleen Alexander, the group’s executive director.

“But I can understand why someone would want to fight for their property,” Alexander said. “Fifty-two dollars doesn’t sound like that much, but with the little they’re making these days that’s a lot.”

On average, one in every 1,100 fill-ups was a gas theft last year, the National Association of Convenience Stores said. With about a penny per gallon as profit, a retailer would have to sell an extra 3,000 gallons to offset each $30 stolen, said Jeff Lenard, a spokesman for the group. Caddi would have had to pump an extra 5,200 gallons to make up for the $52 drive-off.

Gasoline theft cost retailers nationwide $237 million in 2004 — more than twice the $112 million loss in 2003, according to NACS. Gas prices have jumped this summer by as much as 18 cents to an average of $2.55 a gallon nationally.

“As the price of gas climbs, people’s values decline,” Lenard said.

Lenard and Turner said safety and theft concerns have pushed most gas stations in the region to shift to a prepay policy, but even that is not a perfect solution. A prepay policy cuts down on browsing and buying in gas station stores — a big chunk of owners’ profits.

“We’re in uncharted territory. We’re seeing more people going to prepay than ever before,” Lenard said. “I think we’ll look back on 2005 and say, ’Remember when we used to be trusted to pay for our gas?”’

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