December 1, 2021

Police charge driver in gas pump fire

Photos provided by Michael Pick

A driver struck a gas pump Saturday on Port Watson Street in Cortland, sparking a fire that was confined by the Sunoco station’s fire-suppression system before Cortland firefighters doused it. The driver, James Moore of Cortland, was charged this morning with a misdemeanor for not having a driver’s license.

The driver of a vehicle that hit a gas pump and started a fire Sunday morning on Port Watson Street hit the gas pedal instead of the brake, then panicked, police said this morning.

One gas pump was missing this morning while the remaining three were blocked off with yellow caution tape at the Sunoco gas station at 44 Port Watson St.

“A lot of crazy stuff happens at a gas station, but it’s the first time I’ve dealt with this (the fire),” said Muriel Hurd, a cashier at the station who was on duty at the time of the 11:40 a.m. fire.

Hurd said even though it felt like the whole incident lasted longer, it was really only around 15 minutes from when a vehicle struck the pump to when the fire was extinguished.

Hurd recalled seeing the car come through the parking lot and strike the pump. A person inside the car got out and Hurd’s supervisor acted quickly by jumping into the vehicle and stopping it.

Another employee at the store ran outside with a fire extinguisher, while Hurd shut off the fuel supply to the pumps, activated the awning fire suppression system and called 911. “The people from the car then jumped back in and drove off,” Hurd said this morning.

Cortland police Lt. Rick Troyer said this morning that the vehicle, a 2007 Chrysler, was found Sunday night on Rickard Street.

The driver, James A. Moore, 23, of 44 Rickard St., was arrested and charged with third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation, a misdemeanor, and leaving the scene of a property damage accident, a violation, Troyer said. Moore was released to appear May 18 in Cortland City Court.

Troyer said that Moore hit the pump after he used the gas pedal of the car instead of the brake. Moore then got scared and drove away from the scene, Troyer said.

The Cortland City Fire Department responded about 11:40 a.m. and found one of the gas pumps on fire, according to a news release from the department.

The dry-chemical awning suppression system confined the fire to the one pump, firefighters said. Firefighters also used a dry chemical to douse the fire.

Runoff from extinguishing the fire was contained and no injuries were reported.

The Sunoco gas station is open, but the pumps remained shut down today. Hurd said she did not know when the pumps would be back in service. Code inspections needed to be done and the fire suppression system needed to be recharged.

Hurd also didn’t have an estimated damage cost, but did say it was limited to the one pump. “It was contained to that one section,” she said.