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Fatal Drive-Off Hits Home with Retailers

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- The case of an Alabama gas station owner fatally run down by a driver escaping with $52 worth of fuel came as no shock to industry experts, who say such behavior is a natural byproduct of skyrocketing gas prices.

"It's a very difficult situation, and you're never sure how people are going to react," Sam Turner, president of Calfee Co. of Dalton, Georgia, which operates 114 Favorite Markets convenience stores in the South, told the Associated Press.

"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."

Jeff Lenard, spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores, told the AP that the death of Husain "Tony" Caddi, of Fort Payne, Ala., has captured national attention for two reasons: It proves that soaring gas prices makes people angry enough to steal, and gas retailers are tired of putting up with it.

Caddi, the 54-year-old owner of the Fort Payne Texaco, died Friday after he grabbed onto the escaping vehicle and the driver dragged him across the parking lot and onto a highway. Caddi fell from the vehicle and was run over by the vehicle's rear wheel.

On average, one in every 1,100 fill-ups was a gas theft last year, NACS reported. 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 Lenard. Caddi would have had to pump an extra 5,200 gallons to make up for the $52 drive-off.

A search for the driver and a gold or tan Jeep-style SUV continues.

Fort Payne police Chief David Walker says the northeast Alabama town of 13,000 is shocked by the death.

Lenard said the worst problems are at stations near interstates, where thieves can make quick getaways.
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