Gasoline thieves drill into drivers’ wallets

Soaring gas prices, which rose to an average of $4 a gallon in the Bay Area this week, may be causing a spurt in gas thefts in parts of San Mateo County.

Suspects recently took extreme measures to steal gas from two sport utility vehicles parked at a garage near the Century 20 Theater in Daly City, authorities said. Suspects cut a hole in the gas tank of a 2006 Jeep Liberty this week and drilled a hole in the tank of a Chevy Silverado last week, police said.

In Redwood City, two suspects were recently seen siphoning gas out of a construction vehicle at East Bayshore Road and Seaport Boulevard, filling a large paint bucket with the precious liquid, Redwood City police said. All three thefts occurred during the day.

“I’ve been here for 29 years and it’s the first time I recall someone drilling a hole into a gas tank,” said Capt. Corey Roay of the Daly City Police Department. “If the purpose was just to steal the gas and it wasn’t meant todamage the car or there wasn’t any personal grudge involved, it’s an economic crime caused by the price of gas going up.”

Roay said that in the 1970s, a similar wave of gas thefts caused by gas shortages resulted in drivers buying locked gas caps. While the caps protected drivers from siphoning, nothing can protect cars from vandals who steal directly from the tank, police said.

“I don’t know if there is much you can do about that — not if there is someone that determined,” Daly City police Capt. Mike Edwards said.

In San Jose, police reported 10 incidents of gas thefts during the last couple of weeks, most of which targeted larger trucks and vans belonging to businesses. Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties fell victim to the crime wave last week when 200 gallons of gas was siphoned out of three of its delivery trucks. Second Harvest representative Lynn Crocker said the nonprofit, which provides food to about 200 organizations in San Mateo County, lost $800 in gas and spent $1,500 on purchasing locked gas caps for its fleet.

While gas thieves can usually steal about $50 of gas, the owner of the car gets stuck with a $1,400 bill for replacing a pierced gas tank, said Jesse Henry, who owns Superior Automotive, an auto body shop in San Francisco.

Henry pointed out that gas thieves tend to go for high-sitting cars because it’s easier to put a bucket under the tank.

svasilyuk@examiner.com

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