Police search a van which had been modified to carry up to 500 gallons of gasoline

Police shut down the Ventura (134) Freeway overpass at Louise Street on Sunday to search a van which had been modified to carry up to 500 gallons of gasoline. (Photo by Michael R. Ojaghian / December 1, 2013)

A 48-year-old Glendale man was arrested Sunday after fire personnel discovered his utility van — which had been leaking fuel — was modified to hold up to 500 gallons of gasoline, officials said.

Seyran Harutyunyan was taken into custody on suspicion of possessing more than 20 counterfeit credit cards, which investigators found inside in the van, according to Glendale police spokeswoman Tahnee Lightfoot. His vehicle was parked on the Louise Street overpass going over the Ventura (134) Freeway.

A witness reported seeing gas leak from the van at about 1:10 p.m. in the 600 block of North Louise Street and notified authorities.

Hazmat crews from the Glendale and Los Angeles County fire departments arrived on the scene, where they discovered 455 gallons of diesel fuel inside the parked van, Villanueva said.

The van, police said, was equipped with a large aftermarket gas tank inside the back of the vehicle with a metal divider separating the tank from the driver.

The leak was discovered in a portion of the gas tank welded to fit into the van’s floor panel.

Police said the van was also equipped with a nozzle, hoses and portable gas containers.

Crews removed the fuel from the van and took it to Glendale’s Environmental Management Center for storage and disposal, Villanueva said.

Harutyunyan wasn’t arrested for altering his parked van to hold more fuel because it doesn’t break any laws, Glendale police Sgt. Dan Suttles said.

Police would only be able to cite him for improper permits if he was driving the van on a roadway, he added.

But Suttles believes legislation is needed to prevent people from altering vehicles to hold excessive amounts of gasoline because of its potential threat to public safety.

“They are extremely dangerous,” he said. “They are hazardous to the public.”

A spark or wrong move could have ignited Harutyunyan’s van.

“I think we did get fortunate on this one,” Suttles said. “These things have actually blown up.”

Vehicles with fuel storage modifications are becoming more prevalent in the region, Suttles said.

In a recent case, police arrested seven people in connection with an alleged credit-card skimming operation, in which stolen bank account information was used to purchase and fill modified vehicles with fuel, which was later sold on the black market to truckers.

Harutyunyan’s case remains under investigation, police said.

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