CHARLOTTE CO., Fla. — Fuel isn't cheap - and that's why when you find hundreds of gallons of the stuff abandoned it “fuels” suspicion.
Just after midnight Thursday night- the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office found an abandoned silver 2018 Ford Transit van parked at the ramp. Inside- roughly 20, 15-gallon drums of fuel.
The van was discovered when a deputy noticed the vehicle along with another on Placida Road. When the deputy pulled over to assist, the van pulled off and was left abandoned at the boat ramp. It’s left authorities and some questioning the motive.
“My first impression is that the way this fuel was found in these 15 gallon drums and the amount of tanks that were found, that it was probably a fuel theft scheme," says Walter Zalisko, Retired Police Chief and Private Investigator. “Typically what happens is an individual will steal the fuel from gas stations or even private companies. You can have dishonest employees skimming the fuel from their company gas tanks and then putting them into these tanks and then reselling them.”
As bizarre as the scenario may sound, it’s one that police are pretty familiar with. Back in July of 2010- Florida State Police dealt with a crashed boat in Lee County. The cargo was 15, 30-gallon drums filled with gasoline.
“There is a huge market for it because the thieves steal this gasoline, it doesn’t cost them a penny, and yet they will resell it at let’s say two dollars a gallon when the cost of gasoline is $2.80 or $2.90 a gallon," says Zalisko. "So they’re making money on this.”
It’s still unclear what type of fuel was found- whether it be regular unleaded or diesel. It’s a small detail but one that could pose as a potential game changer in the investigation.
“If it’s diesel, they may want to concentrate on the big local truck stops- paying visits to them to see if people are possibly fueling up from there with a pickup truck or whatever so it does make a difference," said Zalisko.
While it remains to be seen if any crime was committed, police are asking the public to remain vigilant as they go about their everyday routine.
“If they see something suspicious at a gas station, a truck staying there for a long time getting fuel, the chances are they’re not filling up a regular fuel tank but a bladder in the back of that truck," says Zalisko. "Just be aware of it and report it to somebody.”
Even if the fuel was not stolen, there could be repercussions for those who left it abandoned. Transporting the fuel in such conditions is very dangerous and can be punishable by law. Detectives are continuing to investigate and conduct a search warrant of the vehicle.
According to Zalisko, the vehicle is registered to Florida West International Airlines in Miami. It was previously registered to Florida Advertising and Marketing Corp. with the same Miami address.