University police notified students to “be vigilant at all times” after two vehicles were stolen from South Campus.
The thefts appear to be related to a TikTok trend which encourages users to break into and steal 2011-21 Kia models and 2015-21 Hyundai models. UPD recommends that “owners of these vehicles consider utilizing a steering wheel locking device to deter thefts.”
Josh Sticht, Deputy Chief of Police, urged students to follow all of the tips outlined in the UB Alert, in an email to The Spectrum. He stated that students “should remain vigilant about their personal safety, but shouldn’t be afraid.”
Both vehicles stolen from South Campus were “parked and unoccupied.” Sticht encourages the importance of the steering wheel lock, saying, “so far we have not seen a vehicle stolen where there had been a steering wheel lock in use.”
UPD is also having the South Campus patrols “focus on the parking lots that were involved [in the theft],” Sticht said. “In addition, many of the South Campus cameras are coming up at the end of their service life. We are replacing them with newer cameras that have much better image quality. This camera replacement is not in response to the two vehicle thefts, but will really help with our prevention and investigation efforts.”
The models targeted are those with a traditional ignition key rather than a “push-to-start” key. Carjackers break a window to gain access to the vehicle then use a USB cord to manually start the car by turning the ignition tumbler.
On Oct. 24 of last year, a fatal car accident in Buffalo involving a stolen Kia killed four passengers, according to WGRZ. The driver of the vehicle, identified only as a 16-year-old male, was indicted on four counts of second-degree manslaughter charges. The driver pleaded not guilty and was released without bail on the condition that he wear an ankle monitor and abide by a curfew, according to The Buffalo News.
In response to the accident, Kia said in a statement that they “pledge to work with local law enforcement by providing, at no cost, steering wheel locks as an optional safeguard to concerned ‘steel-key’ operated Kia vehicles.”
Following thefts all over the country, a spokesperson for Hyundai and Kia told Forbes Wheels that “all Hyundai and Kia vehicles after Nov. 1, 2021, come standard with the anti-theft immobilizer, so many 2022 models and all 2023 units are safe from the brazen thefts.”
Even with these improvements in newer models, TikTok users are still finding older models of these cars and recording themselves while breaking into them. After completing the “challenge,” the culprits ditch the vehicles, often without facing any charges.
After getting into a car accident two weeks prior, Tonawanda resident Averi Wachowiak, 22, had her rental 2020 Hyundai Elantra stolen right from her driveway.
“I guess it happened sometime overnight, and they [the culprits] actually dumped off another stolen Hyundai Elantra in front of my house. The car was left running,” Wachowiak said.
Immediately, Wachowiak called the Tonawanda police, who said they’d been encountering this a lot recently.
Wachowiak reported that the stolen Hyundai was deserted in front of her house with a back window broken. Glass shards littered her driveway.
Wachowiak contacted her rental car company, Enterprise, who said the problem was common with rental Kias and Hyundais.
“It’s sad because Hyundai and Kia are pretty affordable cars and the ones that are broken into are the ones that are a little bit older,” Wachowiak said. “I never thought this would happen in my neighborhood.”
Alysson Bermudez, a first-year chemistry Ph.D. student, had her Hyundai stolen the same week as Wachowiak.
Unable to find her car, she thought it was towed or parked in the wrong place. Phone calls to multiple local towing lots didn’t solve Bermudez’s problem, and one towing company told her that her car “probably got stolen because it’s a Hyundai.”
Bermudez then called UPD, who advised her to call Amherst Police and file a police report. Police found her car a few hours after the report was filed.
While retrieving her car from the police lot, Bermudez noticed many other stolen Kias and Hyundais.
“They all have the same damage: the driver’s window is broken into, and the ignition under the steering wheel is all messed up,” Bermudez said.
Her car remains in the repair shop.
“There are so many cars that got stolen, and they all need the same parts to get fixed,” Bermudez said. “There is a waiting list to get your car fixed. They [the mechanic] said it could be a couple of months until I can get it back.”
Now without a car, Bermudez — who lives downtown — has to take the subway to South Campus before taking the Stampede to North Campus.
“I’ve had to make a lot of adjustments because of this, and you know, it’s scary being a girl and having to ride the subway late at night,” Bermudez said.
On top of being worried for her safety, Bermudez also has to pay $75 for a monthly subway ticket to get to her job and classes. She wishes that there was something the university could do to subsidize those costs and that UB had addressed the issue sooner.
“I don’t know if they [the university] just caught up to it, but I did a little research into the internet trend, and it’s been happening for a while already, since last summer,” Bermudez said. “UB has a large commuter population, so I think it’s important for students and faculty to know about this. If I had known earlier, I would have taken more precautions.”
Even with these new provisions from the university, Bermudez said that once she gets her car back, she plans on selling it.
“I heard stories about people getting their Hyundais stolen twice, even when they took precautions,” Bermudez said. “That’s just too much stress to handle.”
So far, the police don’t know who stole her car, but she hopes that the individuals who did it will be reprimanded, and face the appropriate consequences.
“People who take part in this trend need to learn that this isn’t okay, because it’s actually interfering with people’s lives,” Bermudez said.
Victoria Hill is the senior news editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org