July 1, 2008

Inspector Shuts Down Gas Pumps After Watery Gas Strands Motorists

By Joe Seelig, Highlands Today, Sebring, Fla.

Jun. 30--LAKE PLACID -- A bunch of motorists were affected, some stranded Thursday, after they reported pumping watery gasoline into their vehicles at a Shell gas station at the corner of U.S. 27 and State Road 70, south of Lake Placid.

Terence McElroy, press secretary for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, confirmed the pumps at the gas station had been shut down by an inspector who found water in the tanks.

The pump nozzles have been covered and a yellow caution tape has been wrapped around the pumps, McElroy said.

"We've received three or four complaints (about that location)," McElroy said. "Our inspector found water in the gas storage tanks as well as water dispensed from the hoses."

The pumps have been shut down and the station is in the process of cleaning it up, he added.

"They are prohibited from selling gas until they pass a new inspection," he said.

The station will be required to clean out its pumps, its tanks, and put in fresh gas, McElroy said.

How did it happen? The agency doesn't get into the cause.

"That's their problem and something we don't get involved in," McElroy said.

Who is liable?

"Liability is something between the gas company, the oil company the motorist and the station," he said.

The repair could get expensive.

Jeff Daff, a mechanic at Duck's Body Shop, said an average repair for water in the gas tank would be about $400 to $500 because it is very labor intensive. Of course, every vehicle is different, he said. And there is the added possibility of a fuel disposal fee.

Barbara Cassidy of Venus was one of the unfortunate few who pumped watery gas into her near-empty gas tank.

She said she was low on gas and in a hurry that evening. She stopped at the gas station in question at about 5:30 p.m. and pumped about two gallons before getting frustrated because the pumps were working very slowly.

"I usually don't stop there for gas," she said, adding that her usual gas station had run out of regular. "I got about a mile down the road. Thank goodness for cell phones. She called a tow company that picked up her car and drove back to the Shell gas station.

"There were about 16 to 21 vehicles towed or dragged back to the Shell," Cassidy said, giving her best guess.

She confronted the clerks inside the store.

"Their only response was, 'I guess we'll see you in court,'" she said. "There was a mob down there, yes, an angry mob. I'm one of those angry people."

She said she spoke with a manager, Paula Quinn, who gave her the phone number of the owner, who she said is Muhammad Kibria.

"I called him last Friday and left a message," she said. "He never called back."

Quinn did not return a call Monday from Highlands Today. An attempt to reach Kibria Monday was also not successful.

Cassidy said she got her car repaired but had not yet been given a bill. She had to drive to Fort Myers to get a fuel filter for her Volkswagen Jetta because it wasn't available here and she didn't want to wait for them to ship it.

She said her father, Elbert Sullivan, owner of Sullivan's BP gas station in Lake Placid for the last 39 years, went back to the station Friday morning. A customer was there trying to prepay for gasoline.

"The inspector was inside their building," Sullivan said. "The inspector stopped the sale and said 'You cannot pump any more gas until I say you can.'"

They had four inches of water in the regular tank and five inches of water in the mid-grade, he said.

It was unclear if the gas station pumped gas Friday before the inspector shut the pumps down.

"And they had ethanol," he said. "They've been pumping ethanol with no signs on their pumps. There was a Shell sign Thursday night, but by Friday they had a cover on it."

Sullivan added that slow pumping gas pumps indicate the pumps' filters are clogged and could be sign that there is water in the gas. It's best to stop pumping from a slow pump and go elsewhere.

Vicki Divietro, a secretary at Rodney's Towing, in DeSoto City, said their operators started towing vehicles Thursday evening from the S.R. 70 Shell station.

"Most never even made it away from the pump," she said. "We towed about six vehicles out of there and we repaired three of them. Some of them went back to the dealers."

"A Ford Expedition had just filled up $130 worth of gas," she added.

Sheriff's Capt. Paul Blackman acknowledged that the sheriff's office received a call at about 8:30 p.m. Thursday, from a person complaining they pumped gas at the gas station, and the car broke down shortly afterward.

A deputy was dispatched to take the call, but no report was made, Blackman said, because that is a civil dispute.

"We would have advised them to seek an attorney and sue them civilly," Blackman said. "We would not get involved in that."

To lodge a complaint with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, call the Petroleum Inspection Bureau at 1-850-488-9740.

Joe Seelig can be reached at [email protected]


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Copyright (c) 2008, Highlands Today, Sebring, Fla.

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