If the accusations against Chad M. Storey are true, give the North Oaks man a big fat A for effort, along with some jail time.
Storey, 34, is accused of concocting an elaborate system of hoses and switches that allowed him to siphon gasoline from another vehicle into his own, all from the comfort of the driver's seat of his shiny red Dodge Ram 1500 4x4.
Storey was charged Tuesday in Ramsey County District Court with one count of possession of burglary tools. The sophistication of the device automatically elevates the charge to a felony, according to sheriff's investigator Tom Rudenick.
All Storey had to do, authorities said, was pull alongside a vehicle, stick a hose in its gas tank, flip a switch under his dashboard to activate an auxiliary fuel pump, then sit back and wait.
Authorities said they could only speculate about whether Storey was reselling gas after they found a valve on his gas tank -- clearly not installed at the factory -- that could be used to empty his tank.
Sheriff's officials demonstrated the siphoning device for reporters Tuesday at the Arden Hills patrol station. It took slightly less than 2 1/2 minutes to siphon 5 gallons from a gas can into the pickup truck. Authorities said it would take 6 to 8 minutes for Storey to steal the 20 gallons needed to fill his tank.
Increase in drive-offs
Sheriff Bob Fletcher said that while authorities don't see many siphon devices, with gas prices over $3 a gallon in the metro area they have seen a "significant increase in the number of gas drive-offs."
Six months ago, the Sheriff's Office started a program of pursuing and prosecuting those crimes, including an online reporting system for gas station owners, Fletcher said.
"That way we can take a look at who the repeat offenders are and go after those people," said Sgt. Eric Bradt, who is in charge of the program. "Oftentimes these people have warrants, are driving on a suspended license or are tied to other crimes."
Added Fletcher, "The more we enforce [laws against] one particular type of crime, the more crooks find a way around enforcement. Obviously the fact that this suspect is from the most affluent community in the entire metropolitan area" shows how the rising cost of gasoline is affecting all communities, he said.
Authorities said Storey currently is on probation for a burglary conviction.
Sgt. Dan Loots and Deputy Steve Olson were on patrol early Monday when they saw Storey's truck parked suspiciously close to a blue minivan in an apartment building parking lot in the 1200 block of County Road D East in Vadnais Heights. The driver's door was open and appeared to have damaged the minivan.
Loots and Olson thought they might be dealing with a theft from an auto or possibly a drunken driver. But the closer Loots got to the suspect, the more he smelled gasoline.
"He tried to convince me he hadn't hit the [other] vehicle and ... he opened his truck door and that's when we noticed the hose in the front that he was using to siphon gas off," the sergeant said.
Loots and Olson arrested Storey and found the elaborate system Storey allegedly devised when they inventoried his truck, they said.
Fletcher said he was "impressed by the ingenuity" of the system. "That's what's dangerous about criminals," he said. "They are sometimes smarter than we want them to be."
But Storey allegedly was left red-faced and empty-handed early Monday.
"He did basically admit that he had been doing this in the past," Loots said. "But he said, 'I didn't get any here tonight.'"
Pat Pheifer • 651-298-1551