Police concerned E. Tennessee gas drive-offs will go up with prices

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- As the price at the pump rises, cops say they're concerned that more people will be fleeing before paying.

Knoxville is seeing anywhere from seven to twelve drive-offs a week, and
the city of Alcoa is seeing an elevated amount since Hurricane Katrina and Maryville has seen a slight increase over the last year.

Police agree on one thing -- drive-offs could be almost eliminated.

At prices of close to $3.50 for a gallon of gas, the terms black gold and Texas tea for oil have a greater meaning than ever before.
And the fear for convenience store gas drive offs is there.....despite penalties of fines, court costs, and loss of a drivers license if convicted.

Alcoa Police Captain Rick Arnold says, "I think they would go up because people are becoming more and more desperate and you've got folks out there who are going to break the law no matter what."

Arnold says they've seen five this year, and that's just about five more than five years ago.

"Hurricane Katrina saw us to start to getting more reports since that time."
And since Katrina, Knoxville has been keeping tabs on drive-offs.

Knoxville Police Spokesman Darrell DeBusk says, "They've remained steady since we really kept the numbers and tracked them. We average anywhere from seven to twelve a week."

But DeBusk says there is a solution to drive-offs that's almost foolproof.

"That small amount could be wiped away completely if gas stations would require prepayment."

Arnold says, "It helps us help the community and it helps stop a problem before it occurs."

The EZ Stop in Maryville used to have a drive-off problem, but the problem went away after instituting a prepay system.

Manager Bobbie McKeehan says, "They can use the debit cards, credit cards at the pump. We have cash accepters. They can use cash accepters at the pumps. It works out good."

DeBusk feels that slight increases like we've been having tend to keep the drive-offs down. It's when you see a spike that it makes a difference for those people inclined to drive off actually do so.

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