RICHMOND, Va. -- Chekirah Hill calls her Kia her "baby" since she worked so hard to buy it on her own. It was nearly taken from her this week, part of a national trend of stolen Kia and Hyundai's that began on social media and has arrived in Central Virginia in earnest.
A design flaw makes it very easy to start a Kia and Hyundai without a key if a thief knows what to do. A widely circulated video on Tik Tok led to the nationwide trend of the vehicles being stolen.
Now, local police are urging Kia/Hyundai owners to get the appropriate security-software update from a dealership or at least purchase a steering wheel lock as a physical and visual deterrent.
Hill's Kia was nearly stolen from outside her Manchester home overnight Wednesday.
"This was my first big girl purchase. I’m 24-years-old so this was my very first car I bought on my own," Hill said. "They weren't able to get anywhere, but they still did manage to break the window. They also took a paint scraper and broke off the bottom of the steering wheel column to try to hot-wire it. And they actually tried to hot-wire it with this type of cable.”
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"The biggest emotion I feel is kind of just frustrated and sad because I worked really, really hard for about a year and half to buy my car. So, for someone to feel like they can just take it just for fun, it sucks and shows that a lot of people don’t have that care and compassion for others you think they should," she said.
In Richmond so far this year, 110 Kia and Hyundai's have been stolen, compared to 25 in the same window last year. RPD said 55 were reported stolen in May alone.
Other localities are seeing it too. In Colonial Heights, a city of only eight square miles, nine Kia and Hyundai's have been stolen in the past two months. That accounts for double the total of overall vehicle thefts they typically experience, officials said.
“A lot of times they’re driving it until it runs out of gas, or it’s wrecked and just go any farther," said Capt. Anthony Jackson with Richmond Police. "We don't recover every car that gets stolen, and the ones that we do recover are damaged. They're severely damaged. At a minimum, you're going to have a busted window, and you're gonna have a steering column that's just just destroyed.”
Sgt. Desiree McCurry with Colonial Heights Police said while they were seeing a spike in Kia and Hyundai thefts, her cousin in New Jersey had her vehicle stolen too.
"It happened the day I got to New Jersey to visit," Sgt. McCurry said. "They actually carved out the driver’s side window of her vehicle and were able to use a USB to start her vehicle from the inside.”
"When people started seeing this uptick, immediately, everyone was like, let me call the dealership and figure out what's going on. Is there anything preventative that I can do so I don't fall victim to the same crime," Sgt. McCurry continued.
Based off video evidence and arrests, police said the typical suspect is a young person or teen. Capt. Jackson said thieves are targeting Kia and Hyundai's made from 2011 to 2021 that have keyed ignitions.
The best way to protect your vehicle, authorities said, is getting the security update and using a steering wheel lock. Hill actually had one on her vehicle. Although it didn't prevent her emotional and mental stress, her Kia didn't budge.
"I remember seeing the original video on TikTok," Hill said. "I’d rather you be in my predicament, just with a busted window and a broken steering wheel column, than to just not have a car period or your car wrecked.”
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