SNELLVILLE -- Police say a trio of thieves had recently been using an unusual and dangerous method to steal gasoline from vehicles around Snellville.
Late at night, the suspects used an electric drill to bore holes in gas tanks to drain out the increasingly expensive fuel and capture it in canisters. At least five vehicles were targeted between Aug. 20 and 25, with damages estimated between $400 and $3,000 per vehicle, said Snellville police Det. Orlando Concepcion.
Known thefts occurred in a subdivision around Emerson Lake Circle and in a community next to Summit Chase Country Club. So far, police have charged three people -- Steven Turner, 18, of Snellville, Brandon Miller, 18, and Alejandro Jimenez, 20, both of Loganville -- with criminal damage to property second-degree, a felony, and other crimes.
Only Miller remained at large Thursday.
Targeted vehicles included a pick-up truck, SUVs and a mini-van. The stolen gas literally fueled other crimes, as Turner used the gas to drive on scouting trips for burglaries. Turner admitted to pawning stolen goods to pay for a synthetic marijuana he habitually used called "Spice," Concepcion said.
"Right now, we have a total of five (affected vehicles)," he said. "There might be more, but no one else has come forward."
Officers had a hunch that Turner and his pals might be involved when a city-wide e-mail went out this week about punctured gas tanks and stolen gas in Turner's neighborhood, where police had recently responded to a jewelry theft report.
Concepcion said he found several empty gas containers in Turner's garage and a drill that Miller's father had reported stolen in Loganville.
"I took the drill and put my nose to it, and it smelled like fresh gasoline," he said.
Jimenez was arrested when he voluntarily came to police headquarters for an interview, claiming he merely acted as a lookout. The other two admitted to some involvement, and the confessions helped solve two burglaries in the city of Loganville, Concepcion said.
Turner and Miller are also charged with entering an auto for stealing three GPS systems, the detective said.
Concepcion said the brazen M.O. for pilfering the gasoline befuddled veterans on the force.
"If they would have siphoned the gas, it would have been a misdemeanor," Concepcion said. "They took a big risk using the drill -- luckily it didn't spark."