Southwest Georgia gas stations see an increase in drive offs - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Southwest Georgia gas stations see an increase in drive offs

Albany- Stickers placed on the pumps warning offenders are meant to keep motorists from just driving off, so are surveillance cameras, but it doesn't always work.

"Its always been a problem, and it's always going to be a problem, obviously the dollar amounts higher because of the price of gas," said Wright Woodall, owner of Woodall's Gas Station on North Slappey.

As recently as last week, Woodall's caught a drive off suspect.

"Last week we did catch somebody, that was an older white female with children. That was kind of a surprise, it didn't fit the norm," said Woodall.

The norm is typically teenagers, usually in groups of two or three in a car, who park where they think they can't be seen. The number of thefts have increased slightly this year.

"In January we had 23, as compared to the first 23 days of the month, in February we had 17 and this month so far we've had 25 in the first 23 days," said Lt. Tracey Barnes, Albany Police Department.

Over the last four years, the numbers have increased from 205 thefts reported in 2001 to close to 350 in 2004. Police say, that's because stations aren't set up to catch offenders.

"One of the biggest problems are the set up of the actual stations. They're not conducive to the clerks being able to read the tags number of the car as they're out there pumping gas," said Barnes.

"It's hard to catch a drive off honestly. Vehicle tags may not match that particular vehicle, the driver can say I wasn't driving that day, you have to catch them and catch them fast," said Woodall.

Which leaves many stations paying the bill.

"It's a loss, I mean you can't get it back, even if you catch them. They're typically willing to pay for it, but we don't allow that now we prosecute, every offense we catch we prosecute," said Woodall.

Stations say they do take safety measures. Pumps farthest away from the store are often cut off after dark, until an attendant can see the driver or they are turned into prepay pumps at night.

posted by jennifer.emert@walb.com