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Kia Boyz are fast. St. Louisans are furious

Danny Wicentowski
St. Louis Public Radio
A 2015 Hyundai sedan stolen in the St. Louis region sits in the Bolin Services towing lot in Florissant. Through a broken window, thieves took apart the steering column and used a USB plug as a key. Bolin estimates that of the 75 Kias and 50 Hyundais on the lot, around 100 are stolen.

A wave of car thefts, inspired by the “Kia Boyz” trend on TikTok, has motorists across the country scrambling to protect their cars. The same trend, which targets vulnerabilities in both Kia and Hyundai models, is hitting motorists in the St. Louis region.

Nate Jones’ 2011 Hyundai Sonata was stolen in the late hours on Aug. 24. He said he first learned of the theft from a text message from a neighbor.

“I had this dawning realization that, ‘Oh, my car’s just not going to be there when I open the door,’” he said. “Sure enough, I open the door and the only thing [there] was a little bit of broken glass on the curb.”

Miya Norfleet
St. Louis Public Radio
Would-be thieves attempted to steal this 2016 Kia Soul but only achieved breaking a back window.

Meanwhile, Janie Lee has been without her vehicle for the past six weeks. The crime has left her without a means to get to work or to take her three daughters to school. After she exhausted her auto insurance compensation, Lee was left footing the bill for rental cars and Uber rides.

“This inconvenience [puts] me in the process of having to move [out of her apartment] because the majority of my savings went toward a lot of the Ubers and possibly getting a new car. It’s a lot. Mentally, emotionally, I’m drained.”

Car theft is not a rare crime in the region, but there has been a major increase in the past three months. According to data from the St. Louis County Police Department, the number of stolen cars is up across all manufacturers, but there is a major spike in thefts of Kia and Hyundai models. County police report 61 Kia models and 78 Hyundai models stolen in 2021. In 2022, thieves have vastly surpassed those numbers: As of Aug. 11, they have stolen 290 Kias and 246 Hyundais.

There have been many questions around who is committing these crimes and the motive. St. Louis County Police Sgt. Tracy Panus many of the “Kia Boyz” are juveniles as young as 13 and 14 years old.

Kia Boyz are fast. St. Louisans are furious.

“We are faced with a lot of juvenile crime in our area. … There’s a possibility they are being recruited by adults, adults that understand that these kids are not going to face very severe consequences,” Sgt. Panus said on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air. “We’re way past the days of when kids would steal cars to joy ride. They’re using them to smash into dispensaries … to commit other burglaries. They’re using them to do drive-by shootings and assault people.”

Panus warned against approaching anyone in the middle of a car theft but encourages people to call law enforcement if they see a theft in progress.

“The community, they are our eyes and ears. We can’t be everywhere at once. We need the community to be watchful and be willing to call us … because it increases our chances of catching [the thieves] and getting them off the streets."

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Miya is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."

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