Jeff Jardine

Gas theft: Fumes fogging the brain?

From the e-mails and voice mails:

PURE FOOLISHNESS — As he headed off to work one early mid-March morning, Modesto's Chuck Canterbury smelled gas near his new Ford E-150 van.

"I thought a (fuel) line had broken or something," said Canterbury, who had filled the tank the previous night.

He moved the van out of the way and took his other vehicle to work. A day or so later, he got the van over to Heritage Ford, where they found the source of the problem.

"They said, yeah, (gas thieves had) drilled holes in it," Canterbury said, still incredulous while talking about it weeks later. "The stupidity is that if they did it just to get the fuel, there's little distance (between the tank and the ground) to get it."

Even dumber, he said, is that while many new gas tanks are made of fiberglass or plastic, tanks on many heavy-duty vehicles such as his van are made of metal. When you drill through metal, it gets hot. Sometimes, it sparks. Sparks and gasoline make for a dangerous mix. And the motors of many drills, cordless included, spark within their casings.

Can you say "poof"?

"Just the stupidity of it," Canterbury said.

The new tank cost $1,010, though he paid only his deductible. His insurer picked up the rest. The claims agent told him tank drillings are happening frequently, he said. The police have anecdotal information, but no statistics to back it up, possibly because victims aren't filing formal complaints.

"I do know it happened to my next-door neighbor," said Sgt. Craig Gundlach, spokesman for the Modesto Police Department.

Numie Ochoa, assistant manager at Heritage Ford, said it was the first gas drilling operation he'd heard of in Modesto. More often, thieves cut the pipe between the tank and the side of the vehicle, bypassing the locked door or gas cap, then siphon the liquid gold.

You have to figure it's just a matter of time before some vehicle owner like Canterbury won't need to wait until morning to find out his tank has been tapped. The flaming gas thief in the driveway will be a dead giveaway.

THE KID'S GOT A FUTURE — Frank Pelatowski bills himself as the "World's Oldest Columnist." At 100, he probably doesn't have many challengers for the title. Pelatowski, who wrote for the Mariposa Gazette in the 1980s, will resurrect his weekly column for the 154-year-old newspaper beginning Thursday.

His eyesight failing, Pelatowski will dictate his columns to friend and fellow writer David Burke, who hopes to syndicate them to other papers as well.

"He's a fantastic storyteller," Burke said.

As for claiming to be the world's oldest columnist, it's an unofficial title until the experts weigh in, Burke said.

"We're going to let the Guinness (world record) people work it all out," he said.

His Web site — www.pelatowski.com — includes his blog and a YouTube video clip.

LUCK'S A-CHANGIN' — In my Sunday column, I wrote about Al Pound, who has endured West Nile virus, a shoulder injury, an assault, a house fire and identity theft — all since August 2005. The closing lines read: "Which means for Pound, this might be the perfect time to buy a lottery ticket. He's about due for some good luck."

One day last week — and unaware of what I'd written because it hadn't been published — Pound went to a north Modesto convenience store and played a lottery game called "Hot Spot."

"I got all five spots and won $1,300," Pound said Monday.

"That was funny," he said, referring to the column's purely coincidental ending.

LANGUAGE BARRIER — In previous columns, I've written about the Swedish TV crew that came to the valley in search of the most extraordinary Americans. Among those they profiled was Modesto's Nelson Hackett, a 95-year-old man who rides his three-wheeled bike carrying his three-legged dog in the basket. Debbie Southern, Hackett's daughter, recently received a link to the Swedish TV station that airs the show. The family would love to see it. The glitch?

"The problem is that we don't know Swedish, nor does anybody that we know," granddaughter Tasha Ford wrote in e-mail. "Here is the link. Hopefully you have someone who can help. www.kanal5.se."

So if you happen to speak Swedish, and can navigate the station's Web page, the Hackett family no doubt would be very "tacksam." That's Swedish for "thankful."

FUND ESTABLISHED — A fund is in place for folks who want to help Mike and Lindsey Bowers. Lindsey Bowers, 23, suffered critical injuries in a crash March 22 in Modesto. She was pulled from her burning car after it struck a tree along Mount Vernon Drive, near Tully Road, and has been at the the University of California Medical Center in Sacramento since that day. Doctors amputated her right leg just above the knee and had to take three fingers from her right hand, said her husband, Mike Bowers. She also has several broken bones, has had two surgeries and will need many more. The couple has two children: 17-month-old Lillian and 4-month-old Lillah. And Mike, a carpenter by trade, has been out of work because of the building slowdown. The Bowers Family Relief Fund has been established at Wells Fargo Bank. Lindsey's mom, Michele Rone, said the family hopes to connect with the people who tried to help her daughter at the time of the crash and ask them to visit the Web site — www.welovelindsey.com — the family has created.

"We're looking at a very long, long (recovery period)," Rone said. "She's got a lot of really solid support."

Rone, by the way, helped a family of Hurricane Katrina victims get six months of housing rent-free in Modesto in 2005.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or 578-2383.

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