A truck driver on his route to refill pump stations June 12 allegedly decided to dump 4,000 gallons of gasoline down an embankment behind a Delaware County station to save himself some time, according to charges announced Tuesday.
The decision the driver, George Smith, allegedly made killed wildlife, contaminated a nearby creek tributary and flood basin, and forced the evacuation of an elementary school last month in Brookhaven, authorities say.
Smith, 36, of Vineland, New Jersey, has been charged with causing and risking a catastrophe, Clean Streams Law violations and related offenses. In total, he faces eight felony counts and two misdemeanors.
“We have determined that the defendant’s deliberate actions caused this fuel discharge," Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said. "Motivated by a desire to speed up his route, the defendant poured in excess of 4,000 gallons of gasoline over an embankment bordering an elementary school – causing damage to a nearby stream, wildlife and vegetation and resulting in the closure of the school. As a fuel delivery driver, the defendant was entrusted with a hazardous product – gasoline – and he owed a duty of care to all of us. He chose self-interest over the safety of the Brookhaven community and the safety of the children at Coebourn Elementary School."
Smith's attorney, Daniel McGarrigle, said Smith was released on $50,000 bail. McGarrigle added that Smith never tried to hide himself from the investigators since the incident.
County detectives determined after examining records obtained from Smith's employer, Lee Transport Systems of Elmer, New Jersey, that the truck driver filled up his tanker truck with 8,500 gallons of gasoline before beginning his day's route.
The route included four pump stations, including the Gas N Go at Coebourn Boulevard and Edgmont Avenue in Brookhaven, investigators said. The Gas N Go was supposed to be the last stop, but Smith deviated from the route and made it the first stop.
Because another tanker truck had stopped at the Gas N Go earlier in the day, according to the investigation, Smith only filled up the station's tanks with 4,500 gallons. That then would have forced Smith to go to the next stop on his route and only partially fill up the next station's tanks.
He would have then had to return to his fuel depot to fill up his tanker before returning to the second stop, prolonging his day's route, investigators said.
The illegal and harmful fuel dump at the Gas N Go was caught on surveillance camera, investigators said.
"During the fuel delivery stop, the defendant placed the fuel hose on the ground next to the guard rail," the DA's office said in a statement. "As evidenced by dead vegetation, the defendant’s hose placement in the surveillance video corresponds with the flow path of gas leading down the embankment from the gas station and into a small, wooded area between the gas station and adjacent elementary school."
The impact of the fuel dump has had deadly effects in the short term and will also have a lasting environmental outcome, the DA's office said.
"The environmental impact was immediate and observable with dead wild life — a dead fox, fishes, and eels — in and around the vicinity of the fuel discharge. To date, over 100 large trucks of contaminated soil have been excavated and removed from the site," authorities said. "Additional efforts to remediate, including testing and treating the ground water, could take years."