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Saturday, March 29, 2008:


My wife put $66 of 87 octane gasoline in our new Ford Explorer.

After driving a few miles, the “check engine” light came on.





Sunday, March 30:


The Explorer was hard to start.

We left it parked in the garage.





Monday, March 31:


The Explorer was unusually difficult to start,

but I managed to drive it to Sessler Ford.


The mechanic worked for three hours

but could not find a cause for the errors.


I telephoned the gas station and asked about the gas.

A person named Val said they didn’t know anything but

that I could call Marathon directly at 800 378 1204

That number was Tech Support for the point-of-sale equipment.


The Sessler Ford Service Manager suspected bad gasoline.

He said he could flush it or we could simply drive it dry

and perhaps the errors would end with the next tank of gas.





Tuesday, April 1:


Drove the Explorer once this day.

It was getting more difficult to start.


I noticed that the gas station had taped notes to the

87 octane buttons saying that that grade was not available.





Wednesday, April 2:




I saw that the gas station is still not selling the 87 octane grade.

I walked there and spoke to Val to ask why.  She said the gas is fine.


I asked why they weren’t selling it if it is fine.

Val said that it is being tested but that it is fine.


Then followed a series of questions to which she responded with

various versions of, “You are my customer and I will take care of you.”


What is being tested?

What are you testing for?

Who is doing the testing?

Who ordered the testing?

Are other stations being tested?


Having received not a single answer, I walked home.


I telephoned Marathon in Indianapolis at 317 244 9551

They referred me to Mr. Steve Gayus in Waukegan


cell phone number:  708 533 0650

office (unlisted):  847 360 0888


He advised me to have the gasoline drained immediately.






I walked back to the gas station and saw that a tanker-truck

was parked and pumping and that is had printed on its side:


“Licensed Special Waste Hauler”


I went inside and told Val what the Marathon agent had told me.

I asked her how I might be reimbursed for my expense.


She told me that I am her customer and that she would take care of me.

I asked if she were the manager.  I asked who her supervisor was.


She declined to answer those questions and told me that there is nothing wrong

with the gas and that I should come back next week after it had been tested.


I noted that the underground storage tank was being pumped-out as we spoke.

She denied that.  The truck was ten feet away and making a loud pumping noise.


She said they would contact me.  I asked for a paper and pen and wrote my name,

address and phone number for them to have.  I left to get my camera.


I promptly returned and photographed the truck that Val said wasn’t there.

The counter clerk Alex came outside to tell me that it was against the law

to take pictures and that Val was calling the police.  I walked home.





Thursday, April 3:


Made an appointment to remove the bad gas.

We did not use the Explorer at all this day.





Friday, April 4:


Returned to Sessler for remediation.

It took all morning and cost $904.


When the dealer drained the gas tank, they captured a sample in a glass jar.

At rest it stratifies into a 0.5 inch light-colored layer floating on a 2.5 inch darker layer.


The State Fire Marshall, Division of Petroleum and Chemical Safety had received recent complaints about the gasoline sold at this station and sent Mr. Bob Kowalski to inspect the station because they had received a number of similar complaints two months earlier.





Monday, April 7:


At 3:00 I walk into the store.  Val is walking toward me.


“Val?” I ask.


She looked at me and then she started to walk away.


“Val?” I ask again, a little louder even though she clearly heard and saw me the first time.


She continues to walk away without looking back.


“Val?” one last time.


She walks out of the room.  Alex, behind the counter, said, “Can I help you?”


“Was that Val?” I asked.  All further responses by Alex are in italics.


“Can I help you?”


“Yes.  Was that Val?”


“Can I help you?”


“I wanted to talk to Val.”


“Well, I’m helping you now.”


“Fine.  Last week you told me to come back ‘next week’ to make a claim.  So I was wondering if there is someone I could talk to about that.”


“No.  The attorneys and the lawyers are still talking.”


“What attorneys and lawyers?”


“I can’t tell you.  That’s disclosed information.”


“Geez.  You’re not being very helpful.  I have suffered damages and I need to talk to someone about it.”


“Look, all I can tell you is that the attorneys and lawyers and the distributer are working on it.  If I told you anything else, I would get in trouble with my employer and my supervisor.”


“And you can’t tell me who your employer or your supervisor is because that’s disclosed information too, right?”


“It’s disclosed information.”


“Right.  Well, can you give your employer a message for me?”


Alex shrugs.


“Tell him I have incurred about two thousand dollars of damages.  Tell him that I am going to order an analysis of the sample that was drained from my gas tank because I have to protect myself and no one is talking to me.  That will be more expense that must be reimbursed.  Can you tell him that?”


Alex shrugs.


“You still have my name and address and phone number, right?”


“Yes.  We do.”


I leave.


At 4:00 I called Mr. Gayus again.  I kept brief my conversation with him last Wednesday because I thought the people at the gas station would be responsive.  Since the gas station has a Marathon sign, I now intended to place more burden on Mr. Gayus.


When he understood that I was frustrated, he was very helpful.  He explained that this specific gas station was not one that he deals with directly, but that I should talk to Mr. Bill Morris in Valparaiso at 219 531 6610.  Mr. Gayus also said that the best way to “force the issue” was to speak to Ms. Helen Heckathorn  at 419 421 3615 because she would create an “incident number” that triggers additional activity.  I left telephone messages for both of them at 4:15 – which is 5:15 in Indiana.


At 4:25, Mr. Morris called.  He told me that the Knollwood retailer is a one-station operator.  Their fuel is supplied by Combined Oil which Mr. Morris characterized as a good outfit.  He too said that Ms. Heckathorn is the key person for me to talk to.  He said that his email address is and that hers is


At 6:30 I sent them both emails with links to this website.


At 8:40, Bill Morris acknowledged my email by email.





Tuesday, April 8:


9:40 email from Helen Heckathorn saying that Customer Relations Representative Rebecca Dennis “has been handling all Lake Bluff fuel contamination claims” and that she will contact me.


10:40 email from Rebecca Dennis.  It appears to be largely boilerplate, but it is polite and optimistic.


The State Fire Marshall sent another inspector to follow-up.  She reports that the station was not selling gas the previous two days because of additional complaints about the gasoline.  She also reports that the owner is blaming the fuel wholesaler.





Tuesday, April 15:


8:47 email from Rebecca Dennis.  She send a “follow up” message saying that the station owner has been notified of me and has contacted his insurer.  She asserts that there was water in the fuel.  She adds, “Due to the processing of paperwork and turnover to the insurance company it may take an additional 3 - 4 weeks to receive the resolution.”





Thursday, April 24:


8:53 email to Rebecca Dennis  Considering the amount of time since the incident and the amount of time she has told me to further wait, I decide to request further information.  I request contacts for distributor, station owner and insurance company.  Since she claimed to know that there was water in the gas, I ask for the basis of that conclusion.  I write:  “If you have a chemical analysis, please send that immediately.”


9:44 email from Rebecca Dennis provides insurance company contact, though she misspells the contacts name.  She fails to provide station owner or distributor contacts saying, “I am not at liberty to disclose other contact information.”


She adds, “The insurance company should be the only contact needed.”


She says that the insurer is conducting an investigation.


10:04 email to Rebecca Dennis in which I ask again why she thinks there was water in the fuel.





Wednesday, April 30:


8:45 I telephone Mr. Larson.  He tells me:


The insurer had been first notified of this matter on April 21st.

His insured is the station owner.

There are about 30 other claimants, each with damages from $200 to $1700.

They have hired an engineering company to establish liability of the station owner.

He will forward the engineer’s report to me.





Friday, May 2:


10:53 email from Mr. Larson:


Don, our engineering inspection established water contamination was the problem.  Tank had a worn O-Ring seal in cover that with the excessive snow melting runoff caused the accumulation.  You will be receiving reimbursement as we get checks processed.  We can only thank you for the frustrations but appreciate your patience while we worked through to resolve the problems.







Monday, May 5:


12:33 email from Mr. Larson that includes the Engineer’s Report dated April 25th.





Tuesday, May 6:


12:29 email from Rebecca Dennis:


Hello again,


The Marathon dealer's insurance company, Capitol Insurance finished their investigation and should be processing the claims over the course of the next week.  In the event you have questions or concern's regarding the standing of your claim please contact Paul Larsen at Capitol Insurance.  His number is 608-829-4812 or email at  You will need to reference Claim # 132903 and DBA: AS & K5 Inc.


Thank you for your patience and cooperation.





Wednesday, May 7:


Insurance check came today.  It is 39 days since I purchased the bad gas.  The advice reads, “settlement in full and final payment contaminated fuel”


The amount is $904.05 which is the amount for the second visit to Sessler Ford.  There was no compensation for a half day of my time at the dealer on both Monday and Friday following the Saturday purchase of the gasoline.


It is 35 days since I left my name, address and phone number with the people at the gas station.  No one from the gas station has contacted me yet.





Note:      The entries made in BLACK were posted to this website on or before  May 7, 2008.

The entries made in BLUE were posted to this website on or after October 7, 2008.





Sunday, May 11:


Linda Hinde and her husband John drove into the gas station on this Sunday evening.  On October 8th, she recounted:


The smell of gas was so strong that evening, and I was sitting in my car.  My son had run into the gas station for something and John and I waited in the car.  It was a nice night and we had the windows down, and the smell of gas was overpowering.  I asked John why would you have a sump pump running out of a man hole, and we both got out of the car to look.  When my son came out of the gas station, he said the smell in the store was very strong.  That was when I called Dan [Rogers] and then the LF Police. 


The Lake Forest Police referred the matter to the Lake County Sheriff.  At 9:00 p.m. a Sheriff’s Deputy witnessed power cords that led from a utility room door of the gas station to sump pumps in two of the underground storage tanks (UST) and garden hoses extending from those two USTs to the edge of the property.  At that location he found a puddle of a water/gasoline mix that was drained by “two man-made ditches/channels” away from his property and onto his neighbor’s property.


The deputy notified the Lake County Emergency Management Agency and the Knollwood Fire Department.  Fire Chief Mike Issel confirmed that the material was a water/gasoline mix.  He then notified the State Fire Marshall and the Illinois EPA.


The deputy next interviewed Sunny and Val Cherian who said “they were not aware they were committing any violations.”


Three criminal misdemeanor citations were issued.


From another deputy’s report:


While speaking with an employee, Cherian (Sonny T 02-23-1966), he initially stated he had no ownership in the business, that George Kuruvilla and George Uthup were the owners.  Upon further questioning, Cherian changed his statement and admitted he is a co-owner with Kuruvilla and Uthup.





Monday, May 12:


The Illinois EPA called the Illinois State Fire Marshall, Division of Petroleum and Chemical Safety before 9:00 in the morning on this day.  Sue Dwyer, a State Tank Safety Specialist (STSS) was immediately dispatched to the gas station.  (ATG is Automatic Tank Gauge.)  She reports:


The ATG wasn’t working.  I could not get any current information printed out of it, such as inventory amounts, inches of water in the tanks, ATG testing reports or sensor reports.  The system was displaying an alarm for every function where there is an alarm…I also noted the leak test reports & lack of a current impressed current system test & monthly monitoring log.


STSS Dwyer determined that she would issue a Notice of Violation (NOV) to Sonny Cherian, told him so, and left at 1:00 p.m.


NOV E00000020081470 was written that same afternoon which included five deficiencies requiring correction:  (1) repair or replace automatic tank gauge, (2) secure annual line test & leak detector functionality test by an outside source due to complaints of water in gasoline, (3) discontinue pumping…with sump pumps and garden hose…to the environment, (4) secure annual test of impressed current system functionality and (5) have a site assessment performed.





Friday, June 6:


A NOV is the equivalent of capitol punishment for a gas station.  It empowers the Division of Petroleum and Chemical Safety to prevent any further delivery of gasoline, instantly putting the gas station out of business.  It can then refer the matter to the Illinois Attorney General for prosecution resulting in fines and the removal of the tank.


In this instance, the gas station did not react within a few hours, or even a few days.  After twenty-five days the gas station had still not addressed the deficiencies when the Division issued the NOV it issued a “Timely Compliance Opportunity” letter.  It said, “You are allowed a one-time, 60-day, window to come into compliance effective from the date of this letter.”





Thursday, July 17:


From talking to neighbors I became aware of the three misdemeanor citations issued on May 11th.  (I was unaware of the NOV issued on May 12th.)  I sent an email to the Lake County Assistant State’s Attorney prosecuting the misdemeanors making her aware of this website.  At that time, this page was posted only with the entries displayed in black.  The blue entries were not posted to this page until the case was resolved.





Sunday, August 3:


The 60 days pass without NOV compliance.





Monday, August 25:


The gas station reaches NOV compliance.





Friday, September 12:


I receive a subpoena to testify in case 08CM00002868 the People of the State of Illinois v Sunny T. Cherian.  The prosecutor wanted to establish Mr. Cherian’s motive for dumping his bad gas by introducing the events posted to this page in black.  A deputy sheriff, the fire chief and others also receive subpoenas.  We were ordered to be in court at 9:00 on September 23rd.





Monday, September 22:


I receive a phone call from the Assistant State’s Attorney in the evening.  She tells me that a negotiated plea had been reached and that there would be no trial.  I don’t know if the deputy sheriff, the fire chief and the others who received subpoenas were reached and were able to productively utilize the day they had been required to report to the courtroom.  For me, this was the third time the Cherians had wasted a day of my time.





Tuesday, September 23:


The guilty plea is entered.









Conclusion:  The Marathon station in Lake Bluff is operated by people who (1) sold bad gas to their customers.  When confronted by their customers, (2) they lied to their customers.  In an apparent attempt to avoid some expense, they (3) dumped the bad gas on their neighbor’s property in the middle of the night.  When the police questioned them about the dumping, (3) they lied to the police.  They were issued a Notice of Violations that should have been immediately addressed but (4) they took 115 days to come into compliance.  And then they dragged-out the legal process (5) causing Lake County expense and the witnesses inconvenience.  In my judgment, they are unbusinesslike and unethical.  Caveat emptor.











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