Hand sanitizer disappearing from La Crosse portable toilets

LA CROSSE, Wis. - Police have an unusual kind of mystery on their hands.

Over the past two weeks, hand sanitizer has disappeared from all 12 portable toilets in La Crosse public parks.

But police suspect the thief isn't interested in killing germs.

La Crosse Parks Superintendent Gar Amunson said it's a confusing trend.

"The [portable toilet] vendor called me this Monday of this week and said, 'I have something to report to you that I think is weird,'" said Amunson.

At first when Amunson heard someone was pilfering portable toilet hand sanitizer from parks, he thought someone just wanted free antibacterial gel. But when he realized someone was stealing the sanitizer from every single portable toilet, he realized there might be something more troubling going on.


"It was actually the vendor who said, is somebody consuming this stuff? And I thought, 'No way. There's no way that could be done.' But then the police said, 'Oh yes, because it's got an alcoholic base in it,'" said Amunson.

Police said it's likely the thief is either drinking it straight or using salt to separate the alcohol from the gel sanitizer.

"That's sick," said Amunson.

"Hand sanitizer has about 60 percent alcohol, so it's 120-proof, if you want to compare that to drinking a good scotch whiskey," said Gundersen Health System emergency physician Ben Wedro. "[That's] 12 times as concentrated as beer, and you can develop alcohol intoxication very quickly."

La Crosse Police Lt. Pat Hogan said they have no suspects.

"Obviously, it's probably somebody that needs a little bit of help, too. They might have an issue. So we would look at that and talk to them, but, yeah, there'd possibly be some charges of theft," said Hogan.

But going without hand sanitizer in those portable toilets is a no-go, so the vendor has ordered a new brand this week that's alcohol-free.

That new alcohol-free hand sanitizer will arrive just in time. The city plans to double or even triple the number of portable toilets in city parks this week because warmer weather means more people are spending time at the parks.

All the permanent public restrooms in the city use hand soap that's alcohol-free.

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