Instead, he headed for a line of parked U-Haul trucks in Griffin, Ga., and drilled holes in the tank of one of them — spilling up to 45 gallons of gas before fleeing the scene, police said.
“While we understand that there is a shortage on gas, we also want to remind everyone to exercise safety, patience and common sense,” the City of Griffin Police Department said in a statement on the incident. “The shortage is temporary and we anticipate the gas stations returning to full operations soon. In the meantime, remain calm and don’t do anything to endanger yourself and others.”
On Thursday, police arrested and charged Smith, 25, Griffin police spokeswoman Laurie Littlejohn told The Washington Post in an email.
The case was among several chaotic incidents as gas shortages spiked after a hack shut down the Colonial Pipeline, which supplies almost half the gasoline and other fuels used on the East Coast, leading prices to reach heights not seen since 2014. As panic-buying drivers swarmed gas stations, a fight broke out this week at one North Carolina station after a woman allegedly crashed into another car and spit at the driver, WRAL reported.
The fuel trouble began Friday, when the Colonial Pipeline announced that a cyberattack had forced it to shut down its supply network. The cyberattack has raised questions about the vulnerability of the nation’s infrastructure and led President Biden to declare a state of emergency in 17 states and D.C.
On Wednesday, Colonial announced it would resume operations, but that it could take several days to get distribution back to normal.
Despite officials assuring the public that the nation has plenty of fuel, panic buying left 65 percent of stations in North Carolina out of gas, according to GasBuddy, and more than 45 percent tapped out in Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia. The domino-effect sparked by alarmed customers even reached central Florida, an area not supplied by the Colonial Pipeline, The Post’s Will Englund and Ellen Nakashima reported.
That shortage apparently led to the U-Haul gas theft in suburban Atlanta.
On Wednesday morning, police said, Smith drilled into the tank of one U-Haul truck at a self-storage business in Griffin, causing a “significant fuel spill” in the area.
About 35 to 45 gallons of gas soon gushed from the tanks, Littlejohn, the Griffin police spokeswoman, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Dozens of firefighters worked in the rain throughout Wednesday to clean up the spill as police searched for Smith, who was captured in surveillance video leaving the scene and wearing a dark hoodie, police said in a Facebook post.
“So while you’re creating a hazardous material spill, for 5 gallons of gasoline and cause firefighters to have to work in the rain, we appreciate you parking your truck behind the KFC where we can obtain a photo of your get away vehicle,” police said in another statement. “Also, the shots of you walking around the U-Haul trucks are helpful.”
On Thursday, police arrested Smith and charged him with criminal damage to property and theft, Littlejohn told The Post.
“Investigators are working to determine the appropriate charges related to the hazardous materials spill of the fuel and will add those charges as appropriate,” Littlejohn said.
In North Carolina, authorities responded to a gas station in Knightdale, a town just east of Raleigh, on Tuesday. A brawl erupted after a woman allegedly crashed into a vehicle waiting in a long line at the pumps before yelling and spitting at the driver, a bystander told WRAL. When a man got out of the car, he allegedly spit back at the woman before they began pulling and pushing each other.
Police later arrested both drivers. Alexus Orianna Harris, 25, was charged with simple assault and Matthew James-Stark Artero, 47, with simple assault and damage to property, WRAL reported.
Harris and Artero did not immediately respond to messages from The Post late Wednesday. It is unclear whether they have retained lawyers.