Police search for suspect in gas thefts

Frequent commuters wary of leaving cars in lot for extended periods
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn Police officials are trying to identify a man who they believe is puncturing gas tanks and stealing the fuel inside vehicles left at a parking lot near an Amtrak station.

Auburn Police Sgt. Victor Pecoraro said reports were filed on June 22 and 23 regarding vandalism in the parking lot used by Amtrak commuters at 277 Nevada St. Following the reports, surveillance videos of the parking lot were reviewed.

A white male carrying a drill and a red gas can were revealed in the footage of the parking lot. Pecoraro said investigators believe the male used the drill to obtain access to the gas tanks. He added that replacing a gas tank can cost $450 or more.

"He is using red plastic cans. He must stick it under there and hope for the best and whatever he doesn't take, he lets run out on the ground, which could be another violation," Pecoraro said.

A group of commuters who frequent the Capitol Corridor, which provides service between Auburn and Sacramento, have taken notice of the acts of vandalism. The Capitol Corridor Riders, as the group calls themselves, is trying to get the word out to the community to be vigilant of suspicious activity in the parking lot.

Joyce Crawford, who has used the Capitol Corridor for eight years to get to work, hopes the vandal is caught soon.

"It makes my commute very doable, but the issue is that my car is parked in that lot starting at 6 a.m. until I get home around 7 (p.m.)," Crawford said.

Crawford, a member of the Capitol Corridor Riders, had an issue with parking in the lot near the Amtrak station in the past.

Two years ago, her catalytic converter was stolen from her Toyota 4Runner while it was parked in the lot. The theft resulted in $2,000 in damage to Crawford's car, which she covered herself.

At the time, she said she didn't believe the surveillance cameras posted around the lot were functional. Now she knows otherwise.

"That's a really good step in the right direction," Crawford said.

Ever since word got out about the punctured gas tank, a newsletter has circulated among members of the Capitol Corridor Riders to keep an eye out for anyone hanging around the lot.

Pecoraro pointed out that the alleged vandal seen in the surveillance footage appears to be operating in broad daylight.

Marilyn Sommerdorf, another commuter and Capitol Corridor Rider for the past 14 years, said an Amtrak Police officer was alerted of the gas theft and has also filed a report. A call seeking comment from the Amtrak Police went unanswered Tuesday.

"I must say that the Capitol Corridor was very responsive to this whole incident," Sommerdorf said. "It was the weekend and we approached them Saturday or Sunday and they were on it, so I do appreciate their help."

Sommerdorf also had her gas stolen from her vehicle while it was parked in the Amtrak lot, but that was a few years ago. Though the thieves were never caught, Sommerdorf says she feels comfortable leaving her car there.

"There are a lot of people who come and go at different times, so hopefully that deters these people from being there in their mischievous ways," Sommerdorf said.

To Crawford it is most important to alert the public of the thefts that have already occurred in the lot in order to possibly prevent more in the future.

"People need to be aware. Don't say that it would never happen to you because it has happened to me twice over," Crawford said. "I don't feel safe leaving my car anywhere in this economy. We all have to help each other."

Pecoraro is asking for any information about the thefts or the identity of the person in the photograph from the surveillance tape to contact the Auburn Police at (530)-823-4234.