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'Kia Boyz' challenge becomes public safety issue changing lives

The explosion of stealing Kias and Hyundais started as a social media challenge with young people showing off and joyriding.

SEATTLE — The craze to steal Kias and Hyundais is not just a property crime but a threat to public safety as well, according to Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison

Davison is leading the national charge to hold the automakers accountable.

According to a lawsuit, the explosion of stealing Kias and Hyundais started as a TikTok challenge with young people showing off and joyriding, but KING 5 found that there is nothing carefree about these crimes. For some victims, it changed their lives forever.

Inside Valentina Andriyuk's Des Moines home, she shared memories of her younger brother. Bohdan Vetrov was a father to seven children. He moved his family from Ukraine six years ago to join relatives in Washington state.

"Father’s Day, they stayed in my house. His family is here. It is 11 days before he died,” said Andriyuk.

Eleven days later, there was an alleged crime spree that started with a stolen Kia.
Lakewood police say on June 29, two 16-year-olds stole a Kia and used the car in an armed robbery, raced away from police, and crashed into a semi-truck.
"And unfortunately, when they struck that truck, it ejected the driver of the semi-truck who landed on I-5 and was deceased,” said Lakewood police Sgt. Charles Porche.

That driver was Andriyuk’s brother, Bohdan Vetrov. She will never forget that phone call.
"They said that Bohdan died. You know, he was healthy. No one expected that. We were in shock. We didn't know what to do,” said Andriyuk.

What happened to Bohdan is part of a shared national tragedy because of a car theft trend that took off.

KING 5 obtained legal documents and photos showing crash after crash across the country, from Milwaukee to Madison, Cleveland to Colombus, Buffalo to Baltimore. All the cities say stolen Kias or Hyundais were involved.  Police said in some of the cases people got hurt or killed after the theft.

"It is a stolen car and there is the argument of well, that is just the property crime part of it. But you have to look at the totality of everything that happened there, right,” said Sgt. Porsche.

"There's no way this is a victimless crime. Some of the incidents I know were actual assaults on elderly people to take their Kia or Hyundai at that moment,” said Davison.

In Seattle, from 2021 to 2022 thefts of Hyundais increased by 363% and Kia’s by 503%.

"Our last numbers and data show that as of August of 2023, three-fourths of the vehicles that were stolen are of these manufacturers,” said Davison.

“We have been partnering with law enforcement all over the country including there in Seattle region on this unfortunate crime situation that has been really fed by social media,” said James Bell, head of communications of Kia America.

The Kia Boyz challenge on social media is making it easy for thieves to pull off the crimes. The videos feature tutorials on exactly how to steal the cars.

"It is not a good way that they choose,” said Andriyuk. "It is very dangerous and not good."
"The manufacturer chose from 2011 to 2021, for a 10-year timespan, to exclude nearly universal anti-theft technology in those vehicles as they sold them,” said Davison.

Seattle's city attorney took the lead in trying to hold the automakers accountable.

"I was the first to file suit for the city of Seattle,” said Davison.

That was in January, since then 16 more government agencies across the country have joined in, suing the automaker in federal court.

"I think the right thing to do is to recall these vehicles and install the anti-theft technology,” said Davison.

When asked why Kia didn’t install the technology in the first place, Bell said, "I can't speak to that. I am not in the product planning department. I don't know what the decisions were and how they were rendered, but what I can tell you is all Kia vehicles including any of the vehicles that were part of this issue meet and exceed all federal standards and mandates."

"By looking at the data, it was clear to me that this was becoming a burden on our police officers and on taxpayers,” said Davison.

The graphs chart the rise in Kia and Hyundai thefts, but what the charts don't show is the toll that's taking on human lives.
"Nobody expected that,” said Andriyuk about her brother’s death. “But we have to live with it. What can we do?"

The Seattle city attorney said the people committing the crimes need to be held accountable, but so do the automakers who should have installed anti-theft technology.

A federal judge recently dismissed a motion to throw out the lawsuit.

“While we disagree with the court’s ruling, we remain confident that the evidence in this case will demonstrate that the plaintiffs’ legal claims do not have merit. As we have said from the outset, the Kia vehicle models at issue, in this case, all include a number of mechanisms designed to guard against theft, and these specific vehicle models also comply fully with all the requirements outlined in applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, including FMVSS 114 that governs theft protection measures,” said Bell.

The federal lawsuit Seattle is involved in specifically refers to videos shared on TikTok. A TikTok spokesperson points out that videos have been shared on other social media platforms too. TikTok says the company works to remove those kinds of videos because it violates the company's rules.

WATCH: KING 5's top stories playlist on YouTube

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