What may seem like petty thefts and crimes garnering limited amounts of money for the perpetrator can have high costs for victims and the general public.
Sometime overnight between Thursday, July 28, and Friday, July 29, someone stealthily sneaked onto the parking lot of the Howard Johnson, drilled into the gas tanks of three vehicles and made off with the fuel they could carry. The rest of the gas and diesel poured on the asphalt and flowed to the surrounding lawns.
Woodstock Fire Chief Harold McLellan said his department responded to the scene Friday morning after the discovery of the brazen crime.
“They took what they wanted and just let the rest flow onto the ground,” he said.
McLellan said fire crews arrived too late to set up catch basins to contain the fuel but notified the Department of Environment.
The fire chief said the thief or thieves targeted two gas vehicles and a diesel-fuelled service truck.
While his department responds to gas spills related to accident scenes regularly, he said, someone intentionally cutting holes in gas tanks is a rarity for his fire crew.
But, it won’t be a rarity for long if the trend continues. Insurance adjuster Kyle Hemphill of Woodstock said claims for similar gas thefts and stealing catalytic converters increased by 75 per cent in recent months. That’s part of the continued growth of such crimes over the past few years.
“Right now, there’s more than I’ve ever seen,” said Hemphill.
He said everyone bears the cost of fixing or replacing gas tanks and catalytic converters. Not only must car owners cover the insurance deductible out of their pocket, but the spike in insurance claims also increases insurance rates for everyone.
Hemphill described the thefts as crimes as convenience, noting the thieves are becoming skilled, knowing precisely what to do to cut away a converter or puncture a gas tank.
He said that battery-powered drills and saws became an excellent convenience for everyone but are now the essential tools of petty crime.
He said high-value metals, platinum, palladium and rhodium make catalytic converters a precious target for thieves.
The speed and ease of stealing gas or converters make any on-watched vehicle a target. Still, thieves, like those who hit the hotel parking lot, can be brazen. They also deliver a cost much greater than the lost fuel to the vehicle owner.
George Scott of Wonder Muffler said some gas tanks could be patched, depending on the type of tank and size of hole puncture in it,
In some cases, he said, they can use a bolt and sealant to repair the tank in a couple of hours. However, he added, some tanks must be replaced at up to $1,000.
Scott said his company takes its own precautions to protect cars left overnight at his business on Connell Street in Woodstock. He said they always place vehicles in the front parking lot in a clear view of the busy street.
The rise in petty crime and theft, which police officials believe is related to a severe myth problem in the area, is not limited to unwatched cars.
In February, for example, thieves broke into the Florenceville-Bristol Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DTI) and drilled into the on-site gasoline storage tank. The Florenceville-Bristol Fire Department responded to that call where an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 litres of gasoline spilled onto the ground.
Several gas stations in the area are reporting an increase in gas-and-dash crimes. Derek Laskey at the Debec General Store said they now require customers to pay upfront for gas. Other gas stations required cash-paying customers to pay before pumping.
Just this week, Laskey said, a thief grabbed liquor from his shelves and ran out of the store with a staff member in pursuit. The thief jumped in his truck and raced away. The RCMP is investigating.
Grafton's Smart Stop Ultramar Convenience owner Graham Gill confirmed someone tried a smash grab at his business in the early morning hours of July 28.
Gill said the potential thief failed to break through the protective glass and set off the alarm before fleeing empty-handed. Still, the store owners were left with the bill to repair the broken glass.
Woodstock Police Force is investigating an overnight smash-and-grab at a Main Street business earlier in July, where a thief smashed through a glass door, grabbed some items and quickly left before police responded to the alarm.
And the Woodstock Howard Johnson is not the only Woodstock hotel parking lot recently hit by thieves.
In June, brazen thieves stole two all-terrain vehicles from a trailer parked in the lot of the Best Western Woodstock. Police eventually recovered both machines.
The crime spree includes numerous thefts of often expensive tools and equipment from construction sites and businesses, several stolen vehicles and various other quick-hit crimes.
The RCMP was not available for comment on the recent crimes, but as far back as last summer, the Woodstock detachment acknowledged concern about the rising crime rate, including drug crimes.
Local police view widespread meth and other hard drug use as a driving for to other crimes. RCMP, Woodstock Police Force and other police agencies established special crime reduction units to attack the raging meth problem in the area.
Despite numerous searches, seizures and arrests, the problem continues to haunt many areas of the province, including York, Carleton, and Victoria counties.
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun