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Gas-station attendants have long had a front-row seat to some of the more disturbing displays of human behaviour: Hummer ownership, people who eat those prewrapped sandwiches, Britney Spears entering the restroom without her shoes.

But now, the pumps are also the scene of a new crime wave as more and more people are resorting to "gas-and-dash" thefts and other extreme measures to contend with the high price of petrol.

"There's all kinds of crazy things going on," said Graham Conrad of the Retail Gasoline Dealers Association of Nova Scotia. "People are stealing licence plates so they can take off without paying for their gas."

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In Nova Scotia this week, a 33-year-old gas-station employee named Joel Hennigar required ankle surgery after being run over by a car on Monday as its driver sped away without paying for gas.

Mr. Hennigar was able to memorize the licence plate number and police have apprehended the driver, but charges have not yet been laid.

Another gas theft in Nova Scotia last Friday ended with the arrest of a 19-year-old man.

Similar incidents have been reported across the country as gas prices climb well above $1 a litre. Some municipalities and individual retailers have responded by requiring customers to pay for gas before filling up.

Early this year, British Columbia made prepayment the law, largely in response to the death of Grant De Patie, a 24-year-old gas-station attendant who was killed in 2005 while trying to prevent a fuel theft at a station in Maple Ridge, B.C.

Mr. De Patie was dragged 7½ kilometres after trying to stop a driver from stealing $12.30 worth of gas. A 16-year-old boy pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the case.

But with prices at dizzying highs, even such horror stories and the regulations they inspire do not seem able to stop those desperate to fill up.

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A 38-year-old Victoria man was sent to hospital with severe burns on Monday after apparently attempting to siphon gas from other vehicles.

"We believe that this was a battery-powered pump that he was using that must have sparked and caught fire," Sgt. Grant Hamilton of the Victoria Police Department told CTV.

In the United States, the desperation for gas has reached similarly disturbing levels.

According to the website The Smoking Gun, a Kentucky woman is facing prostitution charges for allegedly trading sex for gasoline.

Angela Eversole, 34, was arrested late last month during a police stakeout of a Days Inn. Kenneth Nowak admitted paying for Ms. Eversole's services with a $100 gas card, which would have bought her about 25 gallons, or 100 litres.

In upstate New York, a 64-year-old golf-course employee was also recently charged after stealing two gallons of gas from a golf cart and putting it in his personal vehicle.

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Another New York man covered his licence plate with shaving cream before stealing $34 of gasoline in May, but was soon caught.

Jazz drummer Charlie Rice, 88, who played alongside John Coltrane and Chet Baker, was one of 12 New Jersey government employees recently indicted on charges of stealing gas from government cars to fuel their own, the Philadelphia Daily News reported.

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the 115,000 convenience gas stores in the United States lost $134-million to gas theft last year.

In Nova Scotia, Mr. Conrad said, gas theft is more common in urban areas where attendants are required to multitask.

Gas theft has become steadily more common over the past two years, he said, with a dramatic spike this summer.

"Whether it's economic difficulties that people are facing or just that moral values are different, I'm not sure," he said. "It's definitely going to continue to increase as long as the retail prices in gasoline continue to rise."

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