Inside the gas tanks of two complete strangers in Chicago, the exact same story played out right before Halloween 2016. What they learned during a chance meeting at a Halloween party helped them solve an expensive mystery.
Both Patrick Brandell’s and Mark Williams’ relatively new cars’ engines suddenly sustained more than $1,500 of damage when they broke down, out of the blue. The one thing they had in common? Both had filled their gas tanks at a Portage Park Citgo on the same October day.
“I filled up and left and about five blocks later, the car was jerking and lurching. I didn’t know what was going on so I pulled over,” Brandell told NBC5 Responds.
Williams had a similar story.
“I started driving down Milwaukee avenue towards Cicero and my car just started jerking, really jerking. I thought it was about to blow up, cause it was just shaking that bad,” he said.
Both drivers say they had their cars towed to their dealers, where they got the bad news. More than $1,500 in damage, quoted by mechanics who suspected the engines were damaged by bad gasoline. Their suspicions weren’t confirmed until the two men met at a Halloween party, and learned of the coincidence.
“I was like, okay, in my spiritual mind-- this is God showing me that somebody else went through the same thing,” Williams said.
Those dots connected, both men contacted the Citgo station, from which they say they expected quick action.
Not so fast.
Williams and Brandell say they were pointed to the station’s insurance company, American Family. Two months after filing claims, both say they were stunned by the response.
“Instead, I get two months later a letter saying, acknowledging the tank had been compromised in some way and ground water had seeped in, however the gas station owner is not liable,” Brandell said.
Williams says he got the same frustrating letter- admitting the problem but denying his claim.
NBC5 Responds first contacted the City of Chicago Business Affairs and Consumer Protection to find out if the Citgo station in question had any recent violations. Within hours of our call, the city sent inspectors to the station- inspecting the tanks and gas supply. After our call to Citgo, Brandell says he got a call within hours, telling him to come pick up his check for $1,024.00.
Both Williams and Brandell say they were ultimately reimbursed for the cost of the repairs to their cars. A spokesperson for the City said that during the inspection, its Weights and Measures team found an empty tank that has a leak and is not in use. The city says the business is only selling regular and mid-grade gasoline and those tanks tested negative for contamination – and will not be selling premium gas until they repair or replace the damaged tank. In 2016 , the city reports it received 33 complaints for possible water contamination filed through 311 against various stations across Chicago. Five of them were against Citgo stations but that does not speak to a trend against Citgo branded stations, according to the spokesperson.
Citgo did not respond to NBC 5 Responds’ request for comment.