Caught on camera: Gas thief accidentally sets church vans on fire in Oregon

BEAVERCREEK, Ore. (KOIN/CNN) – A church in Oregon will now have to replace three vans after a thief searching for gas accidentally set them on fire.

The crime was caught on surveillance cameras.

Mike Mutchler, pastor of Grand View Baptist Church, said he isn’t angry at the thief who caught the vans on fire in the church parking lot around 2:30 a.m. Sunday.

"I don't mind justice being done, but I also want to be compassionate on any offender as well," he said.

Surveillance video shows a driver pull into the parking lot.

"You see a person parking down further on our property and then walking casually up with a drill in one hand and a gas can in another," Mutchler said.

He said a fire investigator later saw a hole was drilled in the gas tank of a van. The investigator believed the man was trying to steal gas when a spark set the van on fire.

“What you see is him running away, surprised because of the fire, drops the drill, picks it up, runs back to his vehicle,” Mutchler said.

The fire then spread to two more vans.

"We would much rather people knock on our door and say they need gas money,” Mutchler said. “It's a whole lot cheaper than replacing gas tanks."

The church does not have comprehensive insurance on the vans. Mutchler said they’ll have to come up with an estimated $30,000 to replace them.

"These vans are used every day to pick up children for our summer program, and then during the year for our school program," he said.

Mutchler said the church has had people try to steal gas about 16 times in the last three years.

Just a week ago, in a case the pastor believes is unrelated, someone cut the catalytic converter off a van.

Still, Mutchler wants the church parking lot to remain open and welcoming to the community.

The pastor also has a message for the thief.

"Just know that when he needs help, we'll be here to help him,” he said. “We have an addiction program every Friday night. We help people throughout the week that need funds and help."

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