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Florida Police on Alert for Gas Thefts

Hillsborough County Sheriff”s Office(TAMPA, Fla.) -- Florida police are on high alert after they intervened this week to disrupt an attempted theft of gasoline at a Tampa, Fla., BP station, evidence of soaring prices and the safety risks thieves are willing to endure for a fast buck, authorities say.

A deputy with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office first spotted the alleged thieves in action Tuesday at the station. A minivan was parked over the in-ground fuel tanks and, police later discovered, was siphoning gas into the make-shift storage vehicle, WFTS ABC Action News in Tampa reported.

The suspects escaped in a second getaway car as the deputy drove closer to the gas station, leaving several hundred gallons of gas still inside the van with 25 gallons spilled in the parking lot.

The national average for regular gas is $3.59 a gallon, up 40 cents from a year ago and 7 cents from last week, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said Tuesday. The average is higher for the lower Atlantic region, at $3.63, which is why police say there is a growing profit margin in the black market for gas.

Patrick DeHaan, GasBuddy’s senior petroleum analyst, said at least one gas station near the Orlando airport was charging $5.79 a gallon.

Larry McKinnon, spokesman for the sheriff’s office at Hillsborough County who has worked with Florida law enforcement for 35 years, said he has seen about a dozen gas thefts a year, concentrated when gas prices increase.

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“It kind of ebbs and flows,” he said. “It will taper off for a while, and, you can bet your dollar, as the prices go up, we’ve told our patrol deputies to be on alert.”

Thieves rig their vehicles to make a fast escape. In the minivan that was left behind this week, there was a hole drilled in the bottom of the vehicle so a hose could pump gas from the station. The suspects appeared to have stuffed large tanks into a car. In other cases, McKinnon said, thieves have towed a tank behind a car, similar to a pest control vehicle.

“Of course, we know none of them were designed to carry fuel and they’re a deadly hazard. Fortunately, we haven’t had a crash yet,” he said. “But it’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but ‘when.’”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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