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Georgia man arrested and accused of drilling hole into U-Haul truck to steal fuel, causing gas spill

The incident comes as a cyberattack on Colonial Pipeline has caused panic across the Southeast over a possible gas shortage.

A 25-year-old Georgia man has been arrested and accused of drilling holes into a U-Haul truck to steal fuel, resulting in a massive gasoline spill, police said.

Video obtained by police in Griffin, a suburb south of Atlanta, is alleged to show the suspect, whom police identified as Jesse Smith, in the area with a fuel can in hand and his vehicle parked behind a KFC. Police posted the images to their social media pages, whose community members called investigators and assisted police in identifying Smith, police said.

Before they identified Smith as the suspect, police and the fire department got a 911 call reporting a massive fuel spill coming from a U-Haul truck in a parking lot. Police said the spill was caused by damage to the fuel tank, which had been intentionally punctured, resulting in gasoline's pouring out onto the ground.

The truck from which a man in Griffin, Ga., is accused of having stolen gasoline. Griffin, Ga., Police Department / via Facebook

Smith was charged with criminal damage to property and theft by taking, as well as reckless conduct. He is accused of having targeted a U-Haul truck at a local USA Rent-A-Space, stealing five gallons of fuel and spilling 35 to 45 gallons, police said. Smith did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Griffin Fire Department was left to clean up the hazardous spill after the man left the scene, working through rainy conditions to get the job done, said police, who expressed frustration in multiple Facebook posts Wednesday while working with the fire department to get the spill under control. It humorously said the security camera video showing the man and his vehicle was "helpful."

So while you're creating a hazardous material spill, for 5 gallons of gasoline and cause firefighters to have to work in...

Posted by City of Griffin Police Department on Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Colonial Pipeline, the country’s largest artery for transporting fuel, shut down all operations Friday after hackers broke in to some of its networks, resulting in a panic across the Southeast over a potential gas shortage.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 65 percent of gas stations in North Carolina were out of gas, said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, an app that tracks fuel. Over 40 percent of stations were out in Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia. And over 10 percent of stations were dry in Florida, Maryland and Tennessee.

Colonial released an updated statement Wednesday saying that it would resume operations but that it is unlikely to be running as normal for several days.

Lucy Bayly and Ben Popken contributed.