Gas Thefts Debated in N.C.

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Gas Thefts Debated in N.C.

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -- Convenience store owners, oil industry officials and police met Wednesday to talk about ways to combat gas drive-offs. The meeting at the Cumberland County jail was held after police sent letters to store owners about gas theft. The drive-offs require time and effort to investigate, police say, and they are asking stores to have customers pay before pumping.

Some store officials like the idea, but others do not. Chris Neal, an executive at Short Stop Food Marts, said the company's 25 stores have few drive-offs. He said that an emphasis on training employees and prosecuting offenders would solve the problem, according to The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer.

"The word is on the street that you can drive off with gas and nothing happens," said Ray Bean, who owns two Fuel Zone stores in the Cape Fear region.

According to lawmen, gas drive-offs more than doubled in Fayetteville in the first five months of this year, compared to the same period last year, the report said. About 225 drive-offs were reported through May of this year; about 100 were reported from January through May 2002.

Neal and others, including Hannah Holt of Holt Oil, said voluntary efforts would hurt business by inconveniencing customers. Some store owners said customers would be more likely to buy gas from stores that do not require them to pay first. Tom Hittle, of The Pantry Inc., suggested that local officials pass an ordinance requiring stores to pay before pumping because drive-offs are becoming too costly at its 50 stores in the market.

Gary Harris of the N.C. Petroleum Marketers Association, an industry trade and lobby group, said the move would be unfair to retailers. "We feel that would be shifting the burden the wrong way," he said, "from the person committing the crime to the legitimate taxpayer."

Harris said about 75 percent of the retailers in his association oppose mandatory pre-payment.