Kansas University senior Jeromy Morris on Wednesday watched the price gauge at the Kwik Shop, 1846 Mass., tick upward - $27, $28, $29, ... - as he filled up his car.
As gas prices hovered about $3 per gallon - Morris said he wasn't surprised about reports to Lawrence police that five drivers since Monday have driven away without paying.
"It doesn't cross my mind, but I could definitely see people doing it if they are broke and they need to get around town," Morris said.
Just before 3 a.m. Wednesday, someone left the Kwik Shop, 4841 W. Sixth St., without paying for 10 gallons of gas, valued at $30.53, according to police records.
Two drive-offs were reported Tuesday evening - one valued at $45 from the Kwik Shop at 1846 Mass., and the other valued at $10.25 from BP Amoco Fuels, 3020 Iowa. Also, about noon Monday, the Jayhawk Food Mart, 701 W. Ninth St., reported that someone drove away with $30 in gas.
Officers responded to a fifth drive-off at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Kwik Shop, 1714 W. 23rd St. An emergency dispatcher said at 4 p.m. that officers had found the vehicle and likely made the driver return to the store and pay.
Police reported last month that they were responding to an average of four drive-offs a month this year, compared with five calls per month in 2005. That's a small percentage of the more than 8,000 total calls that police handle per month. Drive-offs are not tracked separately from thefts other than being coded in dispatchers' computers.
Ryan Lammers, a Kwik Shop clerk who experienced a drive-off on Wednesday, said it was common practice for the store to accept payment rather than press charges against those who drive away from the pump. He was not aware whether Wednesday's driver was found and required to pay, and a police report was not available.
Roger Flory, a manager at the BP station at 3020 Iowa, said he has recognized more frequent drive-offs as prices have increased.
His station requires customers to prepay or pay with a credit card outside only at the pumps farthest from the store. Other Lawrence stations have recently required all customers to prepay or pay at the pump on nights and evenings, or all of the time.
Flory also said he would consider it effective for Lawrence to pass an ordinance as Kansas City, Mo., did requiring fuel stations to make customers prepay, but he was unsure of its overall support.
"Some people just deplore the idea, but at the same time, it's reached the level now that there's got to be some change," Flory said.
Drive-offs can be difficult for law enforcement to handle, he says.
"If I can't get the description of the car, it serves no purpose," Flory said.