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Gas Prices Dropping, But Drive-Offs Increase

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GOLDSBORO — Most drivers are breathing a little easier, thankful that gas prices are dropping.

But some drivers feel gas still is not cheap enough, so they are pumping and running -- without stopping by the cash register or running their cards through payment machines. It is happening more and more, and in the end, you are the one who pays.

In Wayne County, for example, on a typical weekend about three gas drive-offs are reported to authorities. This past weekend, the number reached 10, which is triple the normal rate.

Donald Hatem has been pumping gas at his store on Ash Street for 31 years. He is well-known in the area, and he knows his frequent customers. But he says he keeps a watchful eye out for strangers who drive in for a fill-up.

Hatem says he is also in a good position -- literally -- to watch what is happening. He positions himself outside at the pumps.

"Sometimes we are there right on top of it," he says, "and we will take a license number if they drive off fast. But if I had to work in the store I could not see the make of the car or the license plate. I am on the outside so I can see it."

Stores along busy highways seem to be the easiest targets. The secret, Hatem says, is to be seen.

Gas stations that are entirely self-service face a more difficult problem. There are usually just one or two people working the registers, and no one can go outside to monitor activity. Hatem says many service station employees are too busy to talk with customers, making it tempting for the unscrupulous to drive away.

Hatem says that at his station all ages, races and genders have been guilty of driving off without paying at all hours of the day and night.

Some stations are now requiring motorists to pay before they pump. andMichelle Singer