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TikTok video sparks a rash of Kia and Hyundai auto thefts in St. Louis area

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Thieves steal two cars two nights in a row outside a Benton Park apartment building on Thursday, Aug. 11, and Friday, Aug. 12, 2022.

ST. LOUIS — Experiencing some health issues last month, Rachel Mosqueda spent about a month away from her one-bedroom apartment in the city’s Tower Grove South neighborhood. Her white 2014 Kia Sportage sat parked in her apartment’s lot untouched the entire time.

But within one day of her homecoming, on the afternoon of July 27, someone broke into Mosqueda’s car and tried to drive away with it. Instead, they damaged the wiring under the steering wheel, jammed the ignition and left the vehicle where it was parked.

The damage rendered the car undrivable, Mosqueda said.

She would later find out, once the Kia was towed to an auto shop, that whoever broke into the car caused $2,700 in damage — a claim that has still not been approved by Mosqueda’s insurance company almost three weeks later.

Thefts of Kias and Hyundais skyrocket

Joe Barbaglia, owner of Columbia Auto Repair, checks the paperwork on a Hyundai Elantra on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, that is waiting for a new steering column after thieves busted the ignition switch to steal it. Police say social media posts showing how to start these cars without a key are contributing to a rash of stolen Kia and Hyundai vehicles.

Because of that, her car has been parked at an auto repair shop (along with, she’s told, an almost identical Kia with similar damage) while she borrows her mother’s car to get around.

“It’s been kind of a pain, I mean the whole process has been a disaster,” Mosqueda told the Post-Dispatch on Monday. “But I try to look at it as a positive, you know. Maybe it saved me from a car accident or something. I’m just trying to not think about it in a doom-and-gloom kind of way.”

The rates of stolen Kia and Hyundai vehicles in the St. Louis area have skyrocketed in the last few months, a trend also seen nationally due to a viral TikTok video by a Milwaukee gang that calls themselves the “Kia Boyz.” The video teaches and encourages young people to break into and drive off in these cars using just a screwdriver and a USB charging cable.

The hack only works with models that require a key to start the ignition, rather than push-button starter switches.

“This (is) what you do, you ride through the hoods, you see an abandoned house and then you see if they got an open garage — (expletive), if the garage open, park in it,” one boy said about stealing cars to a YouTuber known as Tommy G in a video about the Kia Boyz posted two months ago with over 3.5 million views. “Sometimes your car will be there, sometimes it won’t.”

Sgt. Gerald Shepard, head of the St. Louis County police’s Auto Theft Task Force, said the newer models are more susceptible because their ignitions are easier to start without a key.

People are still mainly breaking the car’s windows to enter the vehicle, he said.

Two cars in two days at same place

That wasn’t the case for Anastasiya Vasyuta, whose black 2013 Hyundai Elantra was stolen around 3 a.m. Thursday while parked outside her Benton Park apartment on Gravois Avenue.

Vasyuta provided surveillance footage which shows a car pulling up, a man getting out and unlocking her car almost immediately. The person started the car, and their accomplices drove off within three minutes of the group arriving.

“This was the first time I had a car stolen, and it was super emotionally violating,” she said.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Arguably as brazen as the attempt to steal Mosqueda’s car in broad daylight, Vasyuta’s apartment security surveillance camera caught what appears to be the same group of people returning to the apartment’s parking lot the following morning, around 2 a.m. Friday, and stealing a neighbor’s 2013 Hyundai Sonata.

Thefts of Kias and Hyundais skyrocket

Car thieves busted the ignition switch to steal a Hyundai Elantra that is waiting for a new steering column on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, on the parking lot of Columbia Auto Repair in St. Louis.

Her neighbor, who asked not to be named for safety reasons, told the Post-Dispatch she discovered her car was gone when she was going to head to the store and buy a wheel clamp to prevent auto theft.

“If I don’t find my car at some point I will just be completely out of a car,” she said, noting she only has liability car insurance.

While these thefts occurred in the city, Shepard said his task force in the county has responded to 50 Hyundai thefts and 50 Kia thefts just in the first 11 days of August.

Of the top three most often stolen Kia models, St. Louis County police have recorded 200 vehicles stolen through Thursday, an increase of more than fivefold this year to date as compared with years past — 34 in all of 2021 and 51 in all of 2020.

Similarly, there have been 207 of the top three most often stolen Hyundai models since the beginning of the year. In all of 2021, that number was 62, and in all of 2020 there were 51 vehicles stolen.

The county has recovered about 45% of the 1,518 vehicles stolen this year.

Shepard said his unit has worked for years with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department on stolen vehicle cases, another agency which has reported skyrocketing theft rates of Kias and Hyundais.

St. Louis police Sgt. Charles Wall told the Post-Dispatch on Friday the department has recorded a 43% increase in stolen cars this year as compared with last year — 3,428 total motor vehicle thefts compared to 2,404 through the same time period last year.

The department investigated 1,000 vehicle thefts in July alone, with 634 of those thefts involving either a Kia (333 incidents) or Hyundai (301 incidents).

He also noted data released by the department in June that showed thefts of Kia and Hyundai vehicles have more than doubled this year compared with last year: 155 reported thefts of Kia vehicles and 142 thefts of Hyundai vehicles compared with 61 Kia thefts and 63 Hyundai thefts last year.

Take steps to prevent thefts, police say

On Monday, St. Louis police Maj. Renee Kriesmann acknowledged the significant uptick in thefts during a weekly police briefing. She said police investigated 12 vehicle thefts (including attempted thefts) this weekend downtown, nine of those cases involved a Kia or Hyundai.

She reminded residents that the city provides car clubs that can be purchased at City Hall in the offices of the Collector of Revenue and the Citizens Service Bureau.

Car clubs are a bar-like device that locks a vehicle’s steering wheel in place in an effort to deter thieves.

It’s easy to prevent being a victim of car-related thefts. Here are some steps to help prevent your contents from being stolen from your vehicle.

To help prevent theft, police also encourage people to take valuables out of their parked cars, particularly firearms and the vehicle’s fob, keep their vehicles locked and never leave their vehicle running unattended.

A federal class action lawsuit has been filed in Iowa against the two car companies, according to classaction.org.

It claims the companies failed to meet federal standards in the design of the ignition system.

The suit would cover anyone who purchased any 2011-21 Hyundai or Kia vehicle in the United States within the last five years.

Both Kia and Hyundai have released statements to national media outlets stating their vehicles meet federal motor vehicle safety standards.

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