Wayzata gas stations report spike in drive-offs - FOX 10 News | fox10phoenix.com

Wayzata gas stations report spike in drive-offs

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As gas prices rise, so do drive-offs. While most stations say it's a common problem to have people leave the pump without paying, one metro city saw an extraordinary increase in the past two weeks.

In the first four and a half months of the year, Wayzata police say they saw four drive-offs at area gas stations -- but there were 10 more in just the past 12 days.

Family-owned since 1962, the Navarre Amstar is a throwback to the olden days. For 17 years, Rich Flemal has been giving his customers personal attention at the pump.

"You need oil, so I will be right back," he told one customer.

In recent years, however, he's had to pay less attention to customer service and focus on those who drive-off without paying for what he provides.

"The more it's gone up, the worse it's gotten," Flemal said. "They want to be honest, but with the hard times, it makes people do things they don't really want to be doing."

As gas prices set new records in the Twin Cities, more drivers tried to get up and go -- but Flemal has a warning for those who may be tempted to take off with a tank.

"You can't hide from the cameras," he said.

Six months ago, owner Gary Koehnen finally got fed up with the drivers who duck out with free fuel and installed security cameras.

"It surrounds the whole building," he told FOX 9 News. "Every split second [a car] moves, it's monitored by motion and zooms in and out on the license plate."

While many may not think a single drive-off would be a big deal, Koehnen told FOX 9 News he only makes pennies off every tank filled. Believe it or not, a single $100 getaway takes him two full business days to recoup.

"It all eats away at your profit and boy, I'll tell you, drive-offs hurt people," he said. "Be fair to us too."

Koehnen isn't the only one dealing with the drive-offs. In fact, nine of the 10 drive-offs in the past 12 days happened at one Holiday station in Wayzata.

Now, police are also issuing a message to anyone who thinks officers don't have time to take on those types of crimes: You're wrong.

"We investigate these," said Wayzata Police Chief Michael Risvold. "We get the information from the proprietors -- license plate information -- and follow up on each and every one."

While the staff at Navarre Amstar hope for the best, they'll be watching for the rest.

"I'll get you," Koehnen vowed. "I got the technology now, thank God."

Since he installed the cameras, Koehnen said he actually saw three customers come back to pay and apologize, but only after they were contacted and threatened with charges.

Speaking of, those are nothing to take lightly. Anyone who is found guilty of a drive-off can be charged with theft and have their driver's license suspended for 30 days.

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