Broward Sheriffs deputies made a potentially explosive discovery April 14th when they stopped a minivan on Pembroke Road, exposing a growing problem in South Florida.
Inside the van were three large plastic drums and a homemade setup for stealing gasoline, investigators said. The driver, Yoenis Cristo Banos of Hialeah, was arrested.
The scam Banos allegedly pulled -- siphoning fuel from gas stations and re-selling it -- isn't new. But investigators believe it is making a comeback.
Chief Gerard London, who heads BSO's full-time hazardous materials unit, said driving with drums of gasoline is like having a bomb on board.
"The worst type of vehicle we can roll up on is an unmarked box truck or van that can be carrying anything from explosives to flammable or combustible liquids," London said.
Tow truck operators also say they are seeing an increase in fuel thefts. At Westway Towing in Lauderdale Lakes, operators are often charged with working with law enforcement to haul away suspect cars and safely offload any stolen fuel.
"We have seen an increase in the gasoline stealing from gas stations. This was our third incident in three months. In two different counties," said Darren Wells of Westway Towing.
According to detectives, the fuel-siphoning works like this: a thief drives up to a gas station and drives over a capped hole in the ground where tankers offload gasoline. Vehicles used usually have a hole cut in the floorboard, so the thief can break open the cap. A car battery-powered hose from inside the van is then lowered into the hole, sucking up the gas from underground and filling up the plastic drums.
Banos and other drivers passing his van remained safe, but London said the consequences of the battery sparking and the fuel combusting are real.
"It's a high explosive hazard," he said.
In Arizona, surveillance video captured a man who caught on fire after he tried to siphon gasoline from a gas station's underground tank. Several years ago in Sweetwater, a man was also burned
Gas station owners are fighting back. Many are installing alarms on their underground tanks, or on the caps that cover them.
In fact, a working alarm is how Banos was caught just two blocks from the Racetrack gas station on Pembroke Road, and the reason investigators said he only made off with several gallons.
He has been charged with Unlawful Conveyance of Fuel and Petit Theft.