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Bad gas causes local cars to stall

Last updated May 25, 2008 10:53 p.m. PT

Caution tape
Jim Bryant / P-I
Yellow caution tape warns motorists not to use the gas pumps at the Safeway Gas Station at 27020 Maple Valley Highway Sunday. A number of cars stalled out after purchasing contaminated fuel from the station.

Seattle Post Intelligencer

Bad gas causes local cars to stall

Two stations shut down over contamination

By CASEY MCNERTHNEY
P-I REPORTER

With gas selling for a record $4-plus a gallon across the Puget Sound region, some Memorial Day weekend travelers got a lot less than they paid for and a lot more trouble than they imagined when they filled up Sunday.

Two Safeway gas stations were shut down Sunday evening after contaminated gas filled at least nine vehicles, causing them to break down on a day of record gas prices statewide.

The Safeway gas station in Maple Valley had gas mixed with water, and company spokeswoman Cherie Myers said the contaminated fuel came about 5 p.m. from a Shell refinery that supplies the gas stations.

Safeway station employees became concerned when two drivers reported car problems and called a company that monitors the fuel underground, Myers said.

“When they called the refinery, Shell said, ‘Yes, they have contaminated fuel,’ ” Myers said. “But we were able to get rentals for customers.”

Brian Sibley, a spokesman for Shell Puget Sound Refinery in Anacortes, said the refinery was not shut down and that he believed the contaminated fuel was delivered from Harbor Island.

Contaminated gas also was delivered Sunday evening to the Safeway gas station in Des Moines, but that station was closed before any cars filled with the fuel, Myers said. It was unclear how many other stations also might be affected in the area.

David Fitts and his two boys planned to go to the hardware store before stopping at the Maple Valley Safeway station to get gas for their 2001 Dodge Durango.

They didn’t get too far out of the station before their SUV started sputtering.

He thought maybe it was the fuel injector. Then Fitts saw he wasn’t alone.

“Eight other people didn’t make it out of the gas station,” he said. A service station employee told Fitts “they put in 300 gallons of water instead of fuel.”

A dispatcher for Maple Valley Royal Towing said his company towed two cars, and a tow truck driver reported a line of broken-down vehicles at the Safeway station.

“People were disgusted, especially with the price of gas,” the dispatcher said.

The average price for regular unleaded gas in Washington on Sunday reached $4.01 — the highest recorded price, according to AAA. A gallon of diesel also set a state record, reaching $4.885 a gallon.

Fitts said he wasn’t angry, adding that Safeway said they’d get him a rental car before he makes his 30-minute work commute Tuesday.

Like many people, he was left wondering how the mixup happened.

“I didn’t think I’d pay $4 a gallon for water,” Fitts said. “But I didn’t think I’d be paying $4 for gas, either.”

P-I reporter Casey McNerthney can be reached at 206-448-8220 or[email protected].
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