Sunoco cuts ties with Armstrong County gas station over ‘offensive’ billboard
Sunoco said Wednesday it is halting fuel deliveries to an Armstrong County gas station because its owner posted controversial messages to a digital billboard about a quarter-mile away.
The fuel giant also started removing Sunoco signage and trademarks from the Worthington station, according to company officials.
The digital billboard along Route 422, owned by John Placek, displayed messages in recent weeks that Sunoco deemed offensive and racist.
“At Sunoco, we believe racism and bias in any form are simply unacceptable. Those representing the independently owned Sunoco-branded sites are expected to uphold our values on this topic. These offensive billboards are unacceptable and do not represent our values and beliefs in any way,” Sunoco spokeswoman Alyson Gomez said in a statement to the Tribune-Review. “I can confirm that we have terminated our business relationship with this site.”
John Placek did not return messages Wednesday. His twin brother, Richard, told the Trib on Wednesday evening that John Placek owns the gas station.
“It’s sad that Sunoco can’t stand behind John,” his brother said. “He’s a good man. But he’s a fighter. You can’t keep him down; he’ll do business with someone else.”
One message on the billboard began appearing after former East Pittsburgh police Officer Michael Rosfeld, who is white, was found not guilty of homicide last week after fatally shooting black teenager Antwon Rose during a June 19 traffic stop. The billboard displayed the word “Policeman” above a photo of Rosfeld and “Criminal” above Rose’s photo, along with the message, “Legal System Works, Justice Served, Get over it,” according to photos captured by Trib news partner WPXI-TV.
Another post on the billboard, which rotates through several messages, contained a racial slur.
Sunoco officials said they fielded complaints about the billboard on Twitter and responded to individual complaints and photos of it throughout the week.
John Placek told WPXI “he realizes he pushed the envelope” with the recent posts.
He said that he was trying to “highlight the dialogue of race issues,” WPXI reported.
The digital billboard was not operating Wednesday morning.
Two small, hand-made signs made out of white poster board and colored with marker were placed nearby and read, “Love not hate.”
A report filed Sunday with state police in Kittanning said wires to the sign had been cut, causing half of the sign to go dark.
Worthington Council President George Kerr said the borough has no control over the sign but has been fielding complaints about it.
The sign is privately owned on land leased from the Worthington West Franklin Volunteer Fire Department, according to Kerr.
The fire department did not return messages.
“He’s said some things on (the billboard) before that had people a little upset,” Kerr said. “This is by far the worst. Just everything in general about it.”
State Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Ford City, has also gotten complaints. In a statement released Tuesday, he called the billboard’s messages “distasteful and divisive.”
“I want you to know that I completely disapprove of this hurtful hate speech,” Pyle said, adding his office is working with local officials on the issue.
The owners of a Subway sandwich shop that shares a building with the Sunoco put up a billboard of their own to make sure customers knew they were not connected.
“Subway not affiliated with Sunoco or its owner,” the sign reads.
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, [email protected] or via Twitter .