ST. LOUIS – New information is coming to light about just how bad St. Louis’s stolen car crisis has gotten. In a new lawsuit filed in federal court, the City of St. Louis blames automakers Kia and Hyundai for the suit calls an “epidemic” of vehicle thefts.
Crime victims tell FOX 2 News there’s another piece to this: prosecuting the people who are actually stealing the cars. Suspects caught driving stolen cars are routinely released from jail pending criminal charges, if charges are ever filed, according to police sources.
Jim Hayes had his Kia stolen from in front of his house in south St. Louis over the summer. He got the vehicle back, but has heard nothing about anyone being punished for the crime.
“Just do your jobs and convict these people,” he said. “Not everybody’s an angel out there.”
Hayes applauded the City of St. Louis for trying to hold carmakers accountable, too.
“Since May of 2022, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has received more than 4,500 reports of thefts of Kia or Hyundai vehicles,” Mayor Tishaura Jones said at a news conference Monday, announcing the lawsuit.
She said the automakers are liable for selling cars that are too easy to steal; so easy, a kid to do it, according to Jones.
The mayor Kia and Hyundai of putting a target on the backs of their customers and stretching city resources in responding to thefts, which too often lead to more serious crimes.
“Violent crimes, from shootings, to hit and runs, to burglaries, further stretching our public safety resources it’s clear, Kia and Hyundai’s negligence is not just a St. Louis problem. It is a nationwide public safety crisis,” Jones said.
The suit claims most Kias and Hyundais prior to 2021 lacked an engine immobilizer, standard anti-theft technology included in most cars since the 1980s and 1990s. The immobilizers keep cars from starting without the owner’s key.
The suit says the city has seen a 128% jump in car thefts since May with more than 7,300 stolen vehicles, more than 61% of them being Kias and Hyundais. It says more than 23 Kias and Hyundais in the City of St. Louis were stolen every day last summer and fall.
“Kias and Hyundais aren’t just being used for joyriding,” said St. Louis Police Chief Robert Tracy said. “(Stolen Kias/Hyundais are) being used in serious violent crimes across the region.”
“It’s not just happening here in St. Louis,” the mayor said.
FOX 2 News reports bear that out. Last month, a juvenile escapee was injured in the crash of a stolen Kia in Kirkwood, according to police.
In August, thieves used a stolen Hyundai to smash through window during a burglary at a marijuana dispensary in north St Louis County, police said.
In September 2022, Danyell McMiller, 47, was run over and killed on his bike in south St. Louis, by the driver of a stolen Kia, according to police.
Still, you can’t blame everything on the carmakers, according to Hayes.
“They definitely bear some responsibility, at least 50/50,” he said. “You have to prosecute … let’s solve this problem right now.”
The car makers’ offer of free anti-theft upgrades haven’t kept pace with the crimes. The suit seeks damages in excess of $75,000, including punitive damages, would could total in the millions.
A Kia spokesman sent FOX 2 News the following statement in response to the suit:
Kia remains deeply concerned that car theft targeting certain models – encouraged by social media content promoting criminal conduct – is an issue. To address these crimes, we continue to roll out a free, enhanced security software upgrade to restrict the unauthorized operation of vehicle ignition systems, and we are also providing steering wheel locks for impacted owners at no cost through local law enforcement agencies. To date, Kia has already contacted nearly 1.5 million owners and lessees of Kia vehicles to let them know of the availability of the software upgrade and to advise them to schedule a free installation at any Kia dealer. We have also shipped or are in the process of shipping over 27,000 free steering wheel locks to over 140 law enforcement agencies across the country, including close to 1500 locks to police departments in the St. Louis area, and we will continue to provide additional free locks as needed. All Kia vehicles are subject to and comply fully with rigorous testing rules and regulations outlined in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, including under FMVSS 114 that governs ignition security systems and theft protection. Lawsuits against Kia by municipalities are without merit. Kia has been and continues to be willing to work cooperatively with law enforcement agencies in St. Louis to combat car theft and the role social media has played in encouraging it. Customers should visit https://ksupport.kiausa.com/ConsumerAffairs/SWLD for more information on their eligibility for the upgrade, or to learn more about directly obtaining a steering wheel lock.