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13 Investigates: Gas tank drilling on the rise in Southern Colorado

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Colorado Springs resident Stacy Stone woke up one May morning expecting a normal day. After finishing her morning routine, she headed out to her car to drive to work. However, to her surprise, the gas tank she had filled up just the day before was suddenly empty. Unbeknownst to Stone, she had just become the latest victim of gas tank drilling.

"I see a puddle underneath my car and I'm like uh oh something happened," Stone said, describing how she discovered the extensive damage done to her car.

Stacy Stone

According to law enforcement, gas tank drilling is when a thief will steal gasoline directly from a gas tank by using, oftentimes, a hand-held drill. This is similar but more damaging than gas siphoning.

With gas prices rising exponentially in 2022, 13 Investigates learned the crime itself, is on the rise in many parts of Colorado.

According to data from obtained by 13 Investigates, this property crime is up 223% in the Pikes Peak region. In 2021, the Colorado Springs Police Department received 53 reports from people who said their gas tanks had been drilled into.

So far in 2022, there have been 171 reports.

"Why would somebody do this," Stone asked. "It's going to be really hard. It's half my salary that you took from my family, you know, that's half of my salary."

Stone said she was left with a bill of roughly $1,000 to repair the damage to her car.

Since speaking with 13 Investigates in May, Stone said her car has been targeted two more times. One was a rental car and the other was her car, which had a new gas tank.

Where this is happening

According to a community crime map with data from the Colorado Springs Police Department and El Paso County Sheriff's Office, gas tank drilling is happening mainly in the southeast part of the city near Highway 24.

Below is a look at an interactive map:

To find crime numbers use the 'filter' button at the top and select whichever crime you choose to see data on.

In the neighborhoods surrounding the Citadel Mall, just north of Highway 24, the crime map shows 14 reports of gas tank drilling in 2022.

Tank drilling happened four times in and around the neighborhood by Monterrey Elementary School. Right off Highway 24 and Circle Dr., it's happened three times.

This is the same area where Stone and Tammy, another Colorado Springs resident, had their tanks drilled into. Both of their cars were parked in parking lots of townhomes or apartment complexes.

"We walked out the door and could smell the strong odor of gasoline," Tammy said.

Tammy

Tammy told 13 Investigates that while it doesn't shock her that many of these crimes are happening in and around her neighborhood, she's still frustrated with the financial aspect of the crime.

"We wouldn't particularly choose to live in this part of town if we could help it and if we had more money," Tammy said. "We have to pay to have it towed. We are going to have to pay to have it fixed."

This property crime is not isolated to the Colorado Springs area. The Pueblo Police Department told 13 Investigates they have received nearly three dozen reports.

One of those calls came from Isiador Martinez.

Isador Martinez

Martinez lives on Pueblo's east side and woke up one May morning to find a large puddle of gas under his white pick-up truck. His home security camera captured images of a white van used in the crime.

"You can't really believe that people would do that to you. You work for what you've got and then someone wants to come around and just take it from you," Martinez said.

His old gas tank now sits on his front porch. A grim reminder of what he lost.

When asked about repairing his current gas tank, Martinez said he could not afford to repair it or get a new tank altogether. Instead, he went to a scrap yard in Pueblo and found a used gas tank for his truck. He told 13 Investigates the costs associated with this happening to her him were simply too much to bear.

Why this is happening and what police recommend

According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), gas tank drilling has largely replaced gas siphoning, which was a popular way to steal gas for years. However, many newer tanks now have an anti-rollover valve that prevents gas from spilling from the tank in the event of a serious car accident.

Now, thieves are creating extensive, invasive damage by breaching the valve and any other layers of protection with high-powdered drills.

Still, CSPD told 13 Investigates there are things you can do to better protect yourself.

Here is what they recommend:

  • If possible, park your vehicle in a garage overnight.
  • Park your vehicle in a well-lit area, preferably under a light.
  • Add motion lighting to the area the vehicle is parked in.
  • If surveillance cameras are in use, ensure they cover the area the vehicle is parked in. Many surveillance cameras do not capture quality video in low-light environments so know what your camera is capable of.
  • Some off-road vehicles (4x4s, Jeeps, trucks, etc.) have gas tank skid plates that prevent the puncture of the gas tank.

Security camera footage is at the top of that list for law enforcement. Footage from victims has led police to find suspects.

"It's phenomenal for putting us in the right direction, Colorado Springs Police Lt. Pamela Castro said. "The reality is a very very small percentage of the population commits a large percentage of the crime. So we have a tendency to interact with the same people over and over again."

This video, shared with 13 Investigates by Pueblo Police shows a man crouching under a car with a drill in hand and attempting to steal gasoline.

The Impact

"I hope they get caught," Martinez said.

Stone, Tammy, and Martinez all shared the same sentiment that this wasn't just a property crime, what suspects are doing is affecting their victims emotionally, physically, and financially.

"Please stop harming families because I have children and you know I have house payments just like you do," Stone said.


CSPD says this type of crime is very difficult to solve. Police say thieves are hardly ever caught in the act and usually operate during overnight hours when it's dark.

Police do want to remind anyone planning on drilling into someone's gas tank; the crime is a felony and will be prosecuted as such.

If you have any information that can help solve one of these crimes, you're asked to call your local law enforcement agency.

Article Topic Follows: News
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Sean Rice

Sean is reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.

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