Police investigate rash of Kia thefts in Fairview Heights
FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS, Ill. (KMOV) - The Fairview Heights Police Department and the Metro East Auto Theft Task Force are investigating a rash of car thefts that happened early Sunday morning.
Sierra Houghlan owns a 2016 Black Kia Optima. When she went to bed Saturday night, it was parked in her driveway. Around 4 a.m. she received a phone call from a police officer saying that her car had been stolen.
“I do have a wheel lock. I didn’t put it on. I do feel safe around here,” said Houghlan.
Houghlan’s Kia Optima was found abandoned hours later in a parking lot next to Billie’s Pastries and Coffee Shop in East St. Louis. The damaged vehicle was later towed to Midwest Towing in East St. Louis.
First Alert 4 has tracked the nationwide problem of thefts of certain models of Hyundai and Kia vehicles for over a year. The problem stems from the automakers’ failure to install immobilizers in millions of vehicles.
A group of five to seven thieves, who may be juveniles, drove two stolen vehicles to Fairview Heights, where they stole five other vehicles, according to Police Chief Steve Johnson.
“We had several vehicles that were Kias that were stolen literally out of the driveway of several of the owners. In some of those instances, about a block away, we recovered other stolen Kias,” he said.
Johnson said the thieves would abandon a stolen vehicle only to steal another. Then, they repeated that pattern through the night. He said O’Fallon police officers spotted the thieves in one of the cars they stole, but it sped away from a traffic stop.
In September and October, Hyundai and Kia held anti-theft clinics in the area where technicians installed a software update to prevent vulnerable vehicles from being stolen with a USB cable.
The region’s car theft problem appears to be improving, according to statistics from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
Through the end of October 2023, SLMPD investigated 5,193 reports of auto theft. That’s a 13% decline from the same period in 2022.
A breakdown of the total shows 1,347 of those thefts were Hyundai vehicles. However, Hyundai thefts are down 19% from the same time last year.
Of the total number of thefts, 1,283 were Kia vehicles, a 21% drop from the same time last year.
Houghlan said she always uses a wheel lock when she leaves home but didn’t at home because her neighborhood was safe. Chief Johnson said Kia and Hyundai owners should follow these steps to prevent a theft.
“You got to get the club, you got to lock your doors, block your vehicle in, have cameras park it in your garage, if you have that capability. Don’t leave valuable things in the vehicle that people would easily look at,” he said.
The Metro East Auto Theft Task Force is assisting in the investigation.
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