WATERVILLE — The owner of the Mobil gas station on Pleasant Street said the fuel mixup that left several of his customers with damaged vehicles was the error of the distributor who delivers the fuel to the station.

A delivery person from Downeast Energy mistakenly put diesel fuel into the super octane grade tank and super octane in the diesel tank, according to Muhammad Ismael, who is the owner and franchisee of the station connected with the On the Run convenience store. He said he did not know what caused the delivery person to mix up the fuels, but guessed that the person involved had not been paying close enough attention.

Ismael stressed that once the mistake had been identified Jan. 11, the store ceased selling the product and started the process of cleaning it up immediately. He even put paper signs that said “only regular” on the pumps to warn customers that regular 87 octane gasoline was all that was available.

Cases of diesel and gasoline being mixed up appear to be infrequent in Maine. Ismael said nothing like this has happened before in the 15 years he has owned and operated the Mobil station. John Bott, the communicatons director for the commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said in the five years he’s worked for the department, he hasn’t heard of a similar case either.

The mistake has caused vehicle trouble for 10 or 11 of Ismael’s customers. The results varied from simply needing to drain the fuel from vehicle tanks to amassing bills for over $700 in repair work and new parts.

Mike Cote said he repaired one of the affected vehicles Jan. 12 at the service department at Thompson’s Volkswagen in Waterville, where he works. He said that if the wrong type of fuel is put into a vehicle, the fuel doesn’t cool properly and can ruin components in the engine. In Cote’s customer’s vehicle, diesel was pumped into a tank that takes regular gasoline, which forced the business to flush out the fuel from the vehicle and its fuel lines.

Ismael said he is sorry for what customers have endured because of the fuel problem, and that no matter what remedy customers needed to use to repair the damage, they all would be compensated.

Downeast Energy, which is based in Brunswick, is handling all of the claims from affected customers, Ismael said. Anyone who wants to make a claim can contact the manager at the store and will be given forms to fill out.

A representative from Downeast Energy did not return a call immediately Thursday afternoon from the Morning Sentinel to explain how such a mistake is made and what the timeline for customer compensation would be.

Kevin Strickland, who had racked up more than $700 in repair work for his 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer after pumping the wrong fuel from the Mobil station last week, said Ismael and the representative have been attentive and accommodating.

“They said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll cover it all,’ ” Strickland said over the phone Thursday. “The mechanic faxed both of the bills over to Mobil.”

He initially noticed a problem with his vehicle at 6 a.m. Jan. 11, when he and his family tried to start the vehicle to head to Boston. The engine ran for a few minutes and then stopped. He had it towed to M&M Auto Repair in Winslow, where the mechanics hooked his vehicle up to testers that indicated that the throttle body and secondary air pump needed to be replaced. The bill he received totaled $735 in parts and labor.

However, when Strickland tried to start his vehicle again Monday, the engine started to smoke and he thought he smelled diesel fuel.

Strickland had to get his vehicle towed back to the shop and the mechanic drained his tank and cleaned the fuel lines. He said it’s possible that certain sensors in the vehicle still will need to be replaced, which could total another $800, but he is confident that Downeast and Ismael will take care of the costs.

“(Ismael) was very apologetic, and it’s all going well so far,” he said.

Tom Hachey, the owner of Arbo’s Towing and Repair in Waterville, said he had to drain diesel from two of his tow trucks after filling up at the Mobil last week. He said he had to replace the fuel filter on one truck, which cost $60, and lost about 60 gallons of diesel altogether.

Bott confirmed that his office has received documentation confirming that Ismael and Downeast Energy have gone through the proper steps to solve the problem, which included Clean Harbors, an environmental energy group, cleaning the tanks and purging the fuel lines so that they were clear of the incorrect type of fuel.

Bott also received an inspection report that included an octane analysis conducted by the state’s metrology laboratory in Portland, which showed that the fuel products available at the station are now 100 percent what they are labeled as being.

He said Ismael has been cooperative and helpful during the inspection process and that his office will continue to monitor the station.

Other than being unable to sell super grade and diesel fuel during the time the mixup took place, Ismael said he did not notice a decrease in customers coming to fill up at the business. He said he generally sells about 2,000 to 3,000 gallons of regular 87 octane gas a day, with only 100 gallons being diesel or super grade gasoline.

“We have very loyal customers,” he said.

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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