A Florida truck driver came a long way to allegedly steal gasoline in Bingen -- and apparently he is far from alone.
According to Tony Domish, White Salmon's director of public safety, a long-haul truck driver who resides in Florida allegedly used an electronic device to override the circuits at the gas pumps at the Wilcox & Flegel/Pacific Pride card-lock station in Bingen.
Gas industry representatives explain that the devices being used mimic a fuel pump's internal computer and overrides the program, allowing the fuel to pump freely while sharply inhibiting the price gauge. The result: hundreds of gallons of gas for the price of a few gallons.
"The gallons fly and the dollar amounts do not," said Domish. "With the device, you'd get 250 gallons and your card would be charged about $30. It slows it down that much."
Since July 25, 2010, the Wilcox & Flegel station in Bingen has suffered 24 separate fuel theft incidents. The company's losses have totaled about $30,000 in that period.
The thefts were reported to the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department (BWSPD) in January.
BWSPD Sgt. Jim Andring was able to view surveillance photos of thefts from the station. After viewing them, Andring believed he could identify a suspect's tractor-trailer if it came through town again.
"With this information and with the assistance of Wilcox & Flegel employees, we began surveillance of the pumps in hopes of identifying and arresting the person or persons responsible for the thefts," explained Domish.
On Feb. 4, Sgt. Andring was on duty and got lucky: The truck and driver he had seen in the surveillance video was back at the pumps. Andring pulled in and checked the gas pump while the truck driver was there refueling. When Andring removed the cover from the pump, he found a jamming device.
Andring immediately arrested the driver.
Carlos Reyes, 46, of Hialeah, Fla., a self-employed truck driver, was booked for two felony counts of theft in the second degree. Reyes is alleged to have stolen approximately $1,400 worth of fuel from the Bingen station on two separate occasions.
Reyes' bail was set at $50,000, and the BWSPD seized his truck and trailer for forfeiture proceedings.
In a preliminary court appearance, Reyes pleaded "not guilty."
Reyes was lodged in the Klickitat County Jail in Goldendale and spent several weeks in custody before being released on his own recognizance on March 25.
"He informed us he was taking a Greyhound bus back to Florida," said Domish.
Reyes has a May trial date in Superior Court in Goldendale.
The police report on Reyes noted that he had been arrested in Florida in 2010 for stealing fuel. Court records show he was subsequently convicted in the case.
"The suspect told me it's so hard to make a living with gas prices so high, that's why he does this," Domish said. "That's what he told me. Obviously he didn't learn from a year ago. He had no idea we'd take his truck and have him sit in jail for 30 days."
As a result of the thefts, Wilcox & Flegel employees have reconfigured the pumps to make it much harder to remove the covers, thwarting would-be thieves from being able to attach the devices.
"There have been no more thefts from that station since Reyes' arrest. That's the good thing," Domish pointed out.
According to Domish, there have been a rash of thefts from fuel pumps using the override devices, and the FBI is now involved in the cases because it appears the theft ring is national in scope.
"We're assuming those truckers go nationwide using pumps all across the country," Domish said.
Domish added that the Police Department is close to identifying other suspects by matching credit card records with the time thefts were recorded.
"The investigation is continuing, with additional arrests anticipated," Domish said.