You can see, and smell, the gasoline staining the black top at Wallingford, Seattle’s United States Postal Service (USPS) station. But these aren’t your usual spills.
John Pierce is a supervisor at the Wallingford station and says for the past few years, several homeless men have been siphoning gas from his delivery trucks in the parking lot. The men even go underneath the vehicles to cut fuel lines.
“Every day’s a challenge,” says Pierce who tells me that the men “collect [gas] with a bucket” and siphon it out of their trucks with hoses.
One of the postal service’s most prolific offenders comes by in broad daylight to steal fuel. The man has removed the license plates from his blue Ford pick-up.
Pierce tells me these men are “not afraid of the consequences,” and that this daytime thief once “went and filled another bucket of gas and then drove over our hedges to get out of here.”
Postal carriers now park their trucks right next to each other hoping to box out the criminals.
“We’ve been doing that as a tactic to deter them from getting underneath our trucks,” says postal carrier Elliott Tripoli. “It’s harder for them to get way underneath that.”
Pierce says these thefts usually happen in the middle of the night when no one is around so by the time police arrive on the scene, it’s too late. So far, no one has been arrested.
When I ask Tripoli why the police are not more present, he shrugs and tells me he doesn’t know.
What is known, is that these gas bandits have cost USPS hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses and left behind a trail of destruction.
The fuel ends up flowing into the city’s sewer system, but Seattle Public Utilities says there’s no real risk because it does not directly drain into the Puget Sound or other waterways. And because the spill is not on city owned property, USPS is responsible for the clean-up.
“It costs 45,000 dollars to clean up the gas,” says Pierce.
Jeff Lindstrom, a Wallingford resident, says these crimes continue to be a threat to the neighborhood and has documented more than a dozen incidents just in the past few months.
Lindstrom says the city should be responsible for these gas thefts, because “they’ve known for years this is happening.”
I reached out to the Mayor’s Office to inquire about any plans to address the situation, but have not received a response.
Lindstrom has witnessed people siphoning gas at the postal station for years and says he is afraid that the word has gotten out among criminals about the consequence-free opportunity in Wallingford.
USPS is finally putting up a temporary fence around the station parking lot after numerous complaints from neighbors and postal workers. They have plans to establish a stronger, permanent fence in the future.
Pierce says they’re also installing surveillance cameras and will enhance the area’s lighting.
“On top of all that,” Pierce says, “we still have to deliver the mail everyday.”
Until police take action and catch these fuel thieves, USPS has to accept this as part of doing business in Seattle.