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Wisconsin Seeks Remedy for Drive-Offs

OCONOMOWOC, Wis. -- State Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, has proposed a bill that would strengthen the ties between gas station owners and police departments to make it easier for the owners to recoup money from thieves.

The Waukesha (Wis.) Freeman reports that the bill would allow gas station owners armed with the make or model of the car and a license plate number to get the name and address of the owner from the police department. Owners would then able to send a letter demanding payment within 30 days. If payment is not made to the station, the police could then prosecute.

Sunida Sigh, manager of the Clark gas station in Oconomowoc, said that although he doesn't have a big problem with drive-offs, he would like to see the bill passed.

"Anything that will support other stations and help them regain the money that is lost during these acts of theft is wonderful," he told the newspaper.

Officer Mark Rajnicek of the Town of Oconomowoc Police Department said the crimes are treated like a theft but admits that often when individuals leave without paying, it is a harmless mistake.

"I have seen a lot of people simply forgetting to pay, and when they are called on the mistake, they are usually more than willing to pay what they owe," he said.

However, Rajnicek said there are cases of just plain intentional theft on the part of the driver, and those should be treated as crimes.

"The people who intentionally drive off without paying know exactly what they are doing," he said. "They are hurting the livelihood of local business owners by taking what is not theirs. Hopefully, this bill will help the owners. They are not the ones who should be held responsible."

Kleefisch believes the high prices in gasoline have led to an increase in the number of drive-offs in Waukesha County.

"Right now with high gas prices, drive-offs are soaring, and many police departments don't have the resources to investigate the thousands of drive-offs statewide," he said. "This is leaving gas station owners out a bundle of money as many drive-offs go unprosecuted."

Jon Krist, an employee of the Citgo station in Okauchee, said the station recently experienced a drive-off, but the car was already gone before the license plate was written down.

"Many times when this happens, it is simply too busy in the station and you don't realize it's happened until it's too late," he said. "The people who drive off on purpose wait until the right moment and know certain tricks to the trade."

Kleefisch told the Freeman the proposed bill would allow gas station owners the right to go after their money.

"When gas is stolen it ends up hurting honest customers," he said. "This certainly won't put an end to drive-offs, but it will make gas thieves think twice if they know they'll get a bill in the mail with the possibility of police prosecution."

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