Engines destroyed by contaminated gasoline in southern Indiana

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) — It’s not uncommon to fill up on gas without a second thought — pay, pump and drive.

However, several drivers paid, pumped, and then couldn’t get far after buying gas at a Sellersburg station.

WAVE has been told the same story by several customers. They went out and bought gas, and as soon as they started driving away, their cars started behaving strangely. The gas was bad, but the refund process was even worse.

“You know, if you’re going on a trip, you don’t want to go out the two-mile exit to find a station,” customer Dave Hoeks said.

Hoeks said he stopped with his wife at a CITGO in Sellersburg on Oct. 19 because it was convenient and the cheapest on the popular GasBuddy app that day.

“Yeah, we were coming home and we got off I-65 and the ramp there,” Hoeks said.

He said he fueled up and started the car.

“I came back to the street here, turned left, trying to accelerate – boom,” Hoeks said. “The check engine light comes on and the car starts running low.”

As Hoeks said, its six-cylinder engine felt like it was running on three.

“I looked at my wife and said, ‘I think the gas was bad,'” he said. “(She said) ‘Oh honey, don’t be so pessimistic.'”

He was not alone.

“When I got to the lake, I started the boat, backed it off the trailer and the engine failed,” said customer Joseph Russell.

Russell said he refueled his boat at the same CITGO, also on October 19, before heading to Lake Patoka.

“I got it started and brought it to the dock, it died again,” he said. “(I thought) ‘Well, that’s not right,’ so I put it back on the trailer.”

Apparently, right.

“I picked him up on the trailer, but he never pulled a lick after that,” Russell said.

Russell said he checked the spark plugs, fuel lines and finally the gas.

“It didn’t even smell of gas, and I siphoned some off and put it on a rag, and you couldn’t even light it with a match,” he said.

Russell said he then decided to take the boat to his repair shop, where they discovered the tank was mostly full of water.

“They had about ten gallons of water in the gas tank,” he said.

Coyle Chevrolet also fixed six cars, including Hoeks’s, that had bad gas, mostly water.

“Yeah, we had to drain the tank and drop it, there was a lot of water in there,” Hoeks said.

Hoeks and Russell had no idea that someone had complained to the State of Indiana two days after buying their gas at the Sellersburg CITGO. As customers searched for answers, a weights and measures inspection discovered two inches of water in the underground reservoir and ordered the pumps stopped for repairs.

(The story continues below the photo)

A state inspection found 2″ of water in a gas tank.(WAVE)

The weights and measures inspection made no mention of how the water entered the gas station tank. However, a subsequent inspection by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) provided some clues. Water filled the fuel loading openings for some of the tanks in November, according to photos taken at the time. Another is rusty and broken. A 2019 inspection also found supply lines from several tanks to pumps lacked the necessary corrosion protection. These problems could allow fuel to escape or water to enter.

According to state records, IDEM fined the owner $38,000. He ordered that repairs be made. The owner chose to replace the tanks rather than repair them because they were installed just before the inauguration of President Richard Nixon in 1969. Despite this, customers who contacted WAVE’s repairmen said they had difficulty getting refund. A notification of withdrawal has been filed to replace the tanks of this CITGO. Work must begin on March 21 by a contractor.

“I was a bit taken aback and asked what you covered, it was more of a personal liability and bodily injury type policy,” Hoeks said.

Hoeks claimed he paid $1,000 to knock out his car’s gas tank and replace a fuel sensor, but his claim was denied by the gas station’s insurance company.

“They investigated for about two weeks, she called back and said our police didn’t cover it,” Hoeks said.

According to the insurance company, the gas station operator does not own the tanks and is therefore not liable. Hoeks filed a complaint.

“So I went to Floyd County, filed a small claim, and it wasn’t two weeks after that SPRISKA called back and said after further investigation we will cover the damage to the car” , said Hoeks.

“It’s very frustrating,” Russell said.

He said he paid $337 to have his boat’s tank drained and the carburetors flushed. He filed a complaint before calling WAVE, but it came to nothing. He now claims the insurance company cured him.

“Man, say look, we did it, we’re sorry,” Russell said.

Another customer said he received a check after WAVE contacted CITGO in Houston. Hero Petroleum, the station operator, said its insurance has now paid out 23 claims.

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