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Motorists groan as gas pushes $3.75-a-gallon threshold

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Rick Willis pumps $20 worth of gas into his Ford Explorer at the BP station at Detroit Avenue and I-75.

The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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The price of gasoline passed the $3.75-a-gallon mark yesterday afternoon at several Toledo stations, potentially heralding another local record.

Michael Drzewiecki, who lives in the Old West End and works in Springfield Township, looked up at the new price at the American Petroleum station at Monroe Street and Detroit Avenue yesterday as he gassed his 1998 Dodge Ram pickup truck.

"That's why I'm looking to get rid of [the truck]," Mr. Drzewiecki said. "I've told my boss I need a raise or else I won't be able to come to work. It's sad. They need to do something about it."

The price increase occurred on a day when oil futures blasted to a record near $123 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, gaining momentum as commodities investors bought on a forecast of much higher prices and on any news hinting at supply shortages.

Nationwide, retail gas prices had edged lower on Monday, but analysts and government forecasters predicted further national records during the coming weeks.

If the $3.759 posted at several Toledo stations became the new prevailing price in the city - as occurred a week earlier when many stations hiked their prices to $3.659 over the course of a day - then the local average already has exceeded the peak national monthly average of $3.73 that the federal Energy Administration yesterday forecast for June.

Since reaching $3.659 a gallon last week, some local stations gradually dropped their prices to as low as the mid-$3.40s for regular, which not too long ago would have seemed like a high price rather than a low one.

By late afternoon, prices had risen only in certain parts of the city.

But in the past, occasions when most Toledo stations didn't follow the so-called price leaders - typically BPs or Speedways - have been rare, and higher prices already have been posted in major cities and in Michigan.

Mr. Drzewiecki's resigned displeasure about rising prices was typical among motorists filling up in the Monroe Street-Detroit Avenue area, one of the first neighborhoods where prices rose this time around.

"I think it's awful," said the Rev. Blandine Walls, a chaplain at the University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio Hospital, who was at the BP on Detroit at I-75.

"Anymore, it's 'Do I buy gas or do I eat?' You wonder where it's going to stop."

She rarely puts more than $20 at a time into her tank; her total yesterday was $21.69.

One pump over, Jonathan Hychs put $6 in his tank, but he travels only between his Old West End home and his job at his uncle's restaurant in downtown Toledo. "It's going to be $4 by summer, I don't care what they say - unless there's an act of Congress or [President] George W. [Bush] gets on the ball," Mr. Hychs said.

That opinion jibed with a forecast by James Cordier, the president of Tampa trading firms Liberty Trading Group and OptionSellers.com, who said $4 could become the national average within a few weeks. "You're going to see new highs for gas prices, probably for the weekend," Mr. Cordier said.

A new Goldman Sachs prediction that oil prices could rise to $150 to $200 a barrel within two years seemed to motivate much of yesterday's oil-futures buying, although a falling dollar and increasing concerns about declining crude production in Mexico and Russia contributed, analysts said.

The Energy Department raised its oil and gasoline price forecasts, but also predicted high prices will cut demand more than previously thought.

Light, sweet crude for June delivery jumped to a record of $122.73 a barrel before retreating to $121.84, a record close, on the New York Mercantile Exchange - $1.87 above Monday's closing price.

Oil prices nearly have doubled from about $62 a barrel a year ago, which Goldman sees as a sign that the world is in the midst of a "super spike" in oil prices. Analyst Arjun Murti said in a research note released Monday that prices ultimately would force demand to fall sharply.

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