ST. LOUIS — Every car Luke Reynolds is aware of that’s been stolen this year in Soulard has been a Hyundai or a Kia.
In all, more than 1,800 of them have been stolen city-wide so far this year, a 1,000% increase compared to the same time frame last year.
Mayor Tishaura Jones’ administration has sent a demand letter to the automakers insisting they do something to stop the epidemic of thefts involving some makes and models of their cars or face a lawsuit, but Reynolds says, that’s not enough.
“I’d like to see public officials, especially the circuit attorney’s office, start taking more action,” said Reynolds, who heads up the Soulard Special Business District.
Police say a lot of the thieves are juveniles who do not fall under the purview of Gardner’s office and are not typically detained by juvenile authorities for property crimes.
“Nobody wants to see kids get locked up and put in jail, but they need to do something, some accountability,” Reynolds said. “In some of the incidents that I'm privy to, they catch kids and release them back to their parents.”
So, for now, the Soulard Business Association is doing what it can to stop the thieves by giving away free steering wheel locks — commonly called The Club — to its residents.
The group has given out only about a dozen in the past three years. They’ve given that many out in the last 60 days, Reynolds said.
Police said they have not seen any Kias or Hyundais stolen that are equipped with clubs, as the thieves are prone to pass up cars where they can see the locks on the wheels.
But for Hyundais made between 2015 and 2021 and Kias made between 2011 and 2021 without push-button ignitions, thieves are breaking in through back windows, cracking open ignition columns and starting them up with USB cords.
The problem is spreading across the country as the thieves post how-to videos on social media.
“They've got a pretty typical M-O where they're usually driving a car that's either stolen or doesn't have license plates on it,” Reynolds said. “And they usually have three or four people in the car.
“One usually stays in the car and watches and the other three jump out and break into cars and or try to steal cars. Some of them are very good at it and some of them can't get it done.”
The automakers have sent statements to the I-Team noting: Their vehicles meet all federal motor vehicle safety standards, their cars are not defective, and they’re sending Clubs to police departments.
So far, only Hyundai Motor America has sent 100 clubs to the St. Louis Police Department.
They were gone in less than two hours at an event weeks ago.
The department is also partnering with Five Star Senior Center to sell them at cost for $15 each.
For more information on how to get a steering wheel lock from Reynold’s group, visit soulard-sbd.org. To qualify, people must show proof of residence.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story referred to the group as the Soulard Business Association. It is called the Soulard Special Business District. We regret the error.