Tuesday, September 27, 2011
When Tony Guler saw the truck pull into the Wilcox & Flegel/Pacific Pride fuel station in Bingen, he instantly knew that something was wrong.
"The guy pulled in, and I was watching him because I thought for sure he was going to hit something," said Guler, plant manager of the fuel station on State Route 14. Guler was standing at the station's office on the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 22, looking across Maple Street at the pumps, waiting for a different truck to show up in order to help the driver fuel.
Guler's concerns soon changed as he watched the truck reposition itself. The driver allegedly got out and walked around, opening all his doors and the hood of his rig.
"He was trying to look busy," remembers Guler. "There was another car there fueling at the time, and he was waiting for it to leave."
Once the other vehicle left the station, the suspicious trucker allegedly broke into the cabinet of the pump and began attaching some kind of device.
That's when Guler called the police. As he did, the driver allegedly decided to leave and drive east down SR 14. Police caught up with the driver in Murdock and an arrest was made by Sgt. Jim Andring with assistance from the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office. The driver, 52-year-old Nicandro Felipe Morejon, was charged with a felony count of attempted theft in the second degree, and was taken to the Kilckitat County Jail. The truck was impounded and bail was set on Friday at $20,000, which Andring called "larger than normal for this kind of thing."
The gadget that the driver had allegedly attached to the pump appeared to be a jamming device used for stealing fuel. It hacks the pump's computer so that the pump thinks it's doling out much less fuel than it actually is. With diesel usually above $4 a gallon, and with tractor trailers having fuel capacties of a couple hundred gallons or more, the result is often a theft of hundreds of dollars in gas.
This is not the first time this has happened to the Bingen station. On Feb. 4 of this year, Carlos Reyes, 46, of Hialeah, Fla., was charged with two felony counts of theft in the second degree after he allegedly hit the station twice, taking an estimated $1,400 worth of fuel.
Morejon lists an address in Kennewick, but his tractor has Florida plates and he has a Florida license.
The name of the city on the license? Hialeah, the same place that Reyes hails from.
"I absolutely believe there is a connection," stated Guler. Andring, who nabbed the last driver as well, also thought the two truckers might be related in some way, but acknowledged that it could be just a coincidence. Hialeah is a city in the greater Miami area and has over 200,000 people.
The high-tech fuel thefts in Bingen are part of a larger crime spree that has been occurring throughout the nation. Andring guesses that damages from these kinds of crimes nationally have reached into the billions of dollars.
After Reyes was arrested in February, Guler reported that he had six oil companies call him wanting to know how the alleged theft happened. He said that the Pacific Pride station was getting hit twice a month and that he witnessed seven people on video in the past year attempting to break into the fuel pumps.
After Reyes was arrested though, Guler recalled that things quieted down at the station, and the thefts stopped.
"The day we caught Carlos [Reyes] was the last day someone tried to steal from us," said Guler. "Until today."