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Repeat gasoline thief hits Santa Rosa school district vehicles

Officials believe the driver of this white mid-sized SUV is responsible for repeated gasoline thefts from Santa Rosa City Schools vehicles.

Surveillance photo
Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 4:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 4:48 p.m.

A white SUV rolls through the video frame; 17 minutes later it rolls across the screen again, this time going the other way.

Four minutes pass before it returns, staying 12 minutes before leaving again. Another five minutes pass and the SUV again rolls across the parking lot toward parked maintenance vehicles and out of sight. This time it stays just four minutes before rolling away.

The driver is the man Santa Rosa City Schools officials believe is responsible for a spate of gasoline thefts from district vehicles stretching back at least four months.

"It appears to be the same person every single time," said Jennie Bruneman, director of maintenance and operations for the 16,500-student district. "It's multiple vehicles, it's multiple weekends. It's gotten so brazen."

On Nov. 3, the white mid-sized SUV appeared on the surveillance film at 11:37 a.m., made three trips into the parking lot off of Ridgway Avenue before exiting for the last time at 12:19 p.m. The driver appears to be a white man but the license plate is not visible.

On Jan. 21 -- Martin Luther King Day and a school district holiday -- surveillance footage captured the SUV in the parking lot in broad daylight. Crews returned the next day to find gas tanks drained.

"I'd say it's $600 or $700 worth of gas over the last six months," Bruneman said.

Employees are now regularly monitoring surveillance cameras but some thefts are occurring in the dead of night with officials only finding out about the theft when they find their gas gauges bottoming out.

Drivers have taken to parking as close to buildings as possible, ostensibly making it difficult to access the gas caps.

"I'm afraid that if we lock the gas caps that they will cut the gas line," Bruneman said.

Sgt. Mike Lazzarini of the Santa Rosa Police Department was unaware of the thefts at the district offices, but said when gas prices inch upward, the frequency of thefts can rise as well.

A gallon of regular gasoline cost an average of $3.89 Thursday, up from $3.56 in mid-December but well below the record price for Santa Rosa when motorists were paying $4.65 a gallon in October.

"As the prices start going up, it pops up every once in awhile," Lazzarini said of gas thefts.

But the crime remains a petty offense unless someone makes off with more than $950 in one haul, he said.

The school vehicle thefts, not reaching felony level, are nevertheless frustrating for district officials already grappling with budget cuts and reduced maintenance budgets.

"What more do school districts have to deal with?" Bruneman said.

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