Gas station manager fired for selling gas for 69 cents a gallon

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A frenzy erupted last week at a California gas station as bewildered customers discovered they could fill their tanks. at a price last seen in the 1970s.

With prices at the pump rising to record highs, vehicles flooded. Customers called their friends and family, urging them to go to the Shell gas station that was charging just 69 cents a gallon.

But luck ended up costing John Szczecina his job after the Rancho Cordova, Calif., gas station he ran lost about $20,000 in sales.

It all boiled down to “an honest mistake,” Szczecina told The Washington Post. He didn’t know about the circus that had formed until he arrived the next morning for his shift. By then, it was too late. After being placed on administrative leave, Szczecina said he was fired on Monday for the costly mistake.

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Now, Szczecina is taking on a mission to repay her former employer, and strangers are joining in to help. Donations to a GoFundMe created by her family have come in since her story went viral. As of early Thursday, the campaign had raised more than $13,000.

“Even though it cost me my job, it’s okay. Because the truth is, it’s my fault,” Szczecina said. “I know no one else wants to say this, but I felt it was important to acknowledge my mistake and do everything I can to correct it.”

Shell did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post. A representative for its North American division told the New York Post that the station run by Szczecina is independently owned.

Szczecina said he received an email on June 9 instructing him to change the price of premium gasoline to $6.99 a gallon — the third notification of a price increase he has received that week.

In California, drivers face the highest fuel prices in the country — with the cost of a gallon hitting a record average of $6.43, according to AAA data. The national average for regular gas on Saturday for the first time rose by more than $5. The gas station where Szczecina worked has already begun to feel the effects of ever-increasing fuel prices, he said.

“We were no longer making a profit,” said the former manager. “I was doing everything I could, from cutting back on things we weren’t selling as much to making sure we had soda, coffee, anything my regulars liked. It’s been really hard… so when i saw i had to get up [gas prices] again, it felt like a nightmare.”

On the morning of June 9, Szczecina typed “699” three times into her computer to set the new price. The final step was to confirm that the change was reflected in the pumps. But before he could check it out, a truck outside slammed into the curb, sending the water bottles it was carrying flying across the parking lot.

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For the next 20 minutes, Szczecina said he helped the truckers pick up their cargo. Various other tasks occupied his attention, and the need to check the price of gasoline at the pumps disappeared from Szczecina’s mind.

He left the station at 2:30 pm and went to bed early, getting ready to start at 4:30 am the next day. That’s when he arrived and found the district gas station manager waiting for him.

“I immediately thought we had been robbed and I was afraid that something terrible had happened to the cashiers,” Szczecina said.

Instead, he learned about the craze his typo caused when he erred in setting the new premium gasoline price to just 69 cents a gallon. The last time a gallon was this cheap was in 1978, according to the US Department of Energy.

“I felt so bad and I knew I was about to lose my job,” Szczecina said. “So I gave [the district manager] my keys … [and] I went back to my house and started updating my resume.”

Now he’s spending his days applying for jobs and going to interviews. In the meantime, he’s been taking his dog to the river amid the scorching California temperatures.

“I really, really just want to get back to work,” he added.

While he didn’t want to lose his job, he said he would confess his mistake again because “it was the right and honest thing to do.” He and his family also found an upside: the outpouring of support they received from strangers in hopes of helping him repay his former employer.

Her sister Paula Jackson, who organized the campaign, said Szczecina’s attitude showed “the goodness of her heart”.

“He doesn’t have to pay it back,” Jackson said. “But just the fact that he’s doing it and he wants to do it shows a lot of character, honesty and responsibility, and I’m very proud of him for that.”

“It takes courage to say ‘I made a mistake,’” he added.

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