Deshauna Canty is never in a good mood after filling up her Lincoln Navigator.
But she was all smiles today when she swiped her Visa credit card to pay after gassing up her sport utility vehicle.
Why wouldn’t she be? Gas was 35 cents a gallon.
Canty was among hundreds of people who found temporary relief from $3-plus gasoline prices today after an employee accidentally set the price at 35 cents at the Kangaroo Express station at 17th Street and Wellington Avenue, employees said.
The trouble started about 9 a.m. today when an attendant at the BP station punched in 35 cents instead of $3.35 for premium-grade gasoline, said employee Shane Weller. The mistake wasn’t noticed until about 6 p.m., when crowds jammed the pumps and caused traffic jams on nearby roads, Weller said.
By that time news of the low-priced gas had spread like wildfire through e-mail and word of mouth, he said.
Canty heard about the price from her children’s baby-sitter and filled up her Ford Taurus earlier in the afternoon, she said.
“I wasn’t sure if it was true, but I decided to come out here and check it out,” Canty said. “I didn’t have anything to lose and everything to gain.”
After spending a fraction of what she usually pays for fuel for her Taurus, she returned around 6 p.m. to fill up her sport utility vehicle.
Filling up her Navigator usually costs Canty close to $100, but at Thursday’s price it would only cost her $9.80 for a full 28-gallon tank.
Venus Mitchell passed a dozen gas stations after driving from a Market Street shopping center to take advantage of the prices, she said.
“A lady came up to me in the parking lot and told me that gas was 35 cents so I hopped in my car and drove,” said Mitchell from her late-model Oldsmobile.
But Mitchell didn’t make it to the pump before employees switched the prices back.
“I’m a little disappointed because I’ve never paid 35 cents for gas,” she said.
In 1972, the year before the Arab oil embargo, gasoline was selling at 36 cents per gallon, according to a Cato Institute report issued in 2006. Taking inflation into account, that 1972 price would still only be $1.86 a gallon.
Station employees discovered the pricing error after calling their district manager to inquire about changing the price of gas as a way of stemming traffic, Weller said.
“People had been coming in all day stiffing us, not telling us nothing,” Weller said. “They knew something was wrong because regular gas was still $3-something a gallon, and when have you ever known premium gas to be lower than regular?”
After the price returned to normal people continued to flood the gas station, hoping to take advantage of the low the price.
Wilmington police arrived about 6:30 p.m. to help deal with traffic and control the crowd.
There were no reports of accidents or incidents of violence, New Hanover County 911 officials said.
Weller said he doesn’t know what will happen to the employee who typed in the wrong price.
He also isn’t sure how the gas station will deal with money lost from the gas sales during the 10-hour mix-up.
“What can you do?” Weller asked. “There’s nothing illegal about being immoral, but I just don’t see how people could do that to us.”
Mitchell said people didn’t mean any disrespect. They were probably looking for some relief, she said.
“Gas is high these days so I really can’t say I blame them,” Mitchell said.