Kennewick — About $2,000 worth of gas has been siphoned from Ben Franklin Transit vehicles during a recent rash of fuel thefts around the Tri-Cities, officials said Wednesday.
Terry DeJuan, a transit employee, estimates 20 vehicles used in a ride share program have had gas stolen out of them.
The vehicles are parked in lots at different locations in the Tri-Cities and the full-sized vans hold between 32 and 34 gallons of gas, he said.
The thefts have caused headaches for volunteer drivers and commuters when they show up in the morning to get to work, DeJuan said.
"The drivers were coming back to vans and realizing they had (no gas) in the vehicles," he said. "It was frustrating for them."
Kennewick police estimate 200 gallons of gas was stolen during a spike in fuel thefts across the city within the last two months, Sgt. Ken Lattin said. There have been 15 cases reported this year, including 11 in June and four this month.
Gas was siphoned from at least five transit vehicles in Kennewick, Lattin said. Though gas thefts are not uncommon, these thefts are more frequent and could mean the gas is being resold on the streets.
"This seems to be a little more organized," Lattin said.
Although Richland has not had many reports from citizens of fuel thefts, gas was taken out of around a dozen transit vehicles in the city recently, Capt. Mike Cobb said. Officers in Richland are patrolling parking lots more due to the thefts.
Gas was siphoned from vans in Pasco as well, DeJuan said.
Both sheriff's offices in Benton and Franklin County have not seen an uptick in gas thefts recently, even though rural areas are usually targeted because of farm equipment and large trucks, officials said.
At least five gas thefts have been reported to the Benton County Sheriff's Office in 2014, said Tyna Antonson, who tracks crime statistics for the sheriff's office. In early June, there was a report that 100 gallons of gas of diesel was siphoned from a piece of equipment.
Franklin County did not have a single gas theft reported last month, Undersheriff Kevin Carle said.
Local law enforcement and transit officials told the Herald they are taking steps to combat the thefts and identify suspects.
Officials urge citizens to keep an eye out for thieves and buy specialized gas caps that will lock their tanks.
"If anybody sees anything going on that seems suspicious, please call the police," DeJuan said.