ST. LOUIS — Byers' Beat is a weekly column written by the I-Team's Christine Byers, who has covered public safety in St. Louis for 15 years. It is intended to offer context and analysis to the week's biggest crime stories and public safety issues.
ST. LOUIS — A mid-day shootout near a busy intersection just south of downtown St. Louis, sent a stray bullet through someone’s apartment and also left a 17-year-old wounded.
A shooting sprayed six other vehicles with gunfire in St. Louis.
Cars slammed through three marijuana dispensaries across the area. One crash involved a shooting in St. Louis Thursday.
What do these crimes all have in common?
Police say the suspects all used stolen Hyundais and Kias to commit them.
The 17-year-old was dropped off at a hospital with a gunshot wound to his arm on Aug. 4. Police were called to the hospital at 1:15 p.m. and learned the victim was shot near Dillon Drive and Hickory Lane. Police say the victim was riding in a stolen vehicle when he was shot at from another stolen car. Those stolen cars were a Kia Optima and a Hyundai Sonata.
Police say a stolen Hyundai Elantra and stolen Kia Optima were involved in the shooting that damaged the six vehicles on June 26, 2022.
A stolen Hyundai was the second car to slam through Cookies dispensary.
A stolen Hyundai rammed into the Green Leaf dispensary near Chippewa and Watson in south St. Louis Sunday.
And, Thursday, sometime between 3:47 a.m. and 4:37 a.m., three cars showed up at the Luxury Leaf dispensary along Vandeventer with multiple people in each vehicle. A blue Hyundai backed into the entrance of the business damaging the doors. A neighboring business owner happened to be leaving his lot at the same time and drove toward the suspect’s vehicles. People inside the Hyundai and a Chrysler 300 fired shots at this witness.
No one was hurt, but the witness' vehicle was struck. Police tried to pursue the vehicles, but they got away.
I think it’s safe to say it appears the thieves have graduated from using the cars for joyriding to committing serious crimes.
It’s part of a trend the I-Team has been reporting on for months.
Police say some makes and models of Kias made between 2011 and 2021 and Hyundais made between 2015 and 2021 were built without engine immobilizers.
Young thieves have figured out that if they break a back window – which is not connected to the vehicle’s security system – it won’t trip the alarm.
And they can use a USB cord to start the ignition once they break the plastic that covers the steering column.
They’re teaching each other how to do it via social media platforms, so the issue is spreading across the country.
It’s bringing St. Louis to its knees.
In the city alone, 3,813 cars have been reported stolen so far this year – almost half of them are Hyundais and Kias, according to St. Louis police.
The last two months have been brutal.
Through June, 520 Hyundais and Kias had been reported stolen – a more than 300% increase from 2021.
In the month of July alone, 687 were reported stolen.
And so far this month, St. Louis police tell me there have been 576.
That’s more than 1,200 Hyundais and Kias stolen in less than two months – that’s about 70% of the total number of Hyundais and Kias stolen so far this year.
At first, Capt. Janice Bockstruck told me the car thieves were using them primarily for joyriding.
Now, it’s escalating.
I talked to a St. Louis woman whose Hyundai was stolen and used to slam into the Green Leaf dispensary in south St. Louis early Sunday.
She did not want me to use her identity because she fears her car could be stolen again.
But she did send her thoughts to me in an email:
“What I can say is that having a car stolen in St. Louis is not a shocking or even uncommon experience; what is shocking is exactly how easy it is for any person to take advantage of this incredibly bad design and engineering. The automakers should be held liable for letting the ignitions go to market like this. Instead, they are distracting customers and the media by shifting the blame to crime. If the design of my car makes it exponentially more likely to be stolen than any other car parked on my street, it seems pretty obvious to me where the fault really lies. In my opinion, the Hyundai Motor Group should issue a full recall and replace each affected ignition.
“One surprising thing I discovered in trying to coordinate repairs after the theft is that most glass windows and compatible replacement ignitions for the make and model of my Hyundai are on a backorder set to last weeks to months. So even without any additional damage, most people affected by an event like this could be out of any means of transportation for as long as these recalls last.”
Police are recommending Hyundai and Kia owners put visible steering wheel locks like The Club on their cars.
So far, cars with those locks are not being stolen.
Hyundai Motor America sent 100 steering wheel locks to St. Louis, which city police leaders distributed during a giveaway a week ago. Lou Fusz Kia also contributed some Clubs to the event. The Five Star Senior Center also provided 100 steering wheel locks to be sold at cost, which is $15.
In all, St. Louis police say they were out of all 250 steering wheel locks in less than two hours.
In a statement, KIA America vowed to send steering wheel locks to St. Louis police as well to be given away to potential victims.
So far, that hasn’t happened.
And the crimes keep escalating.