BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Kia cars and SUVs are being stolen at an astounding rate all over the U.S., owing to a vulnerability in their ignition systems. Now we’re learning that the vulnerability may have led to the death of a 15-year-old Bakersfield boy.
Donald Olsson, 80, of Bakersfield was driving south on Alta Vista Drive, headed to his church, when a stolen 2018 Kia Optima, driven by 18-year-old Timothy Javier Leal sped through a stop sign at Irene Street, according to highway patrol.
Olsson didn’t have time to react.
“The other car – I didn’t really see it,” Olsson said. “He didn’t stop at that intersection. It was a high rate of speed and evidently was going to go right on through but hit me.”
Olsson’s truck was sent spinning, right through a three-foot high brick barrier and flipped over, coming to rest at the doorstep of Justin Heidelberger, who was enjoying a quiet Saturday morning with his 2-year-old daughter.
“My daughter and I were in our front room reading a book, playing, and all of a sudden I hear crunching metal and screeching tires,” he said. “I look and there’s just a, basically a car flipping over. I grab her right as my windows are shattering and come out with the truck in our front yard.”
The California Highway Patrol said Leal, the driver of the stolen car, got out and ran away, but his passenger, 15-year-old Jaime Perez, known at all as Jasper, was killed. Leal was captured a short distance from the crash and was arrested on numerous charges including suspicion of driving while intoxicated.
Perez, just a few days shy of his 16th birthday, was an East High School freshman, according to his brother, Ray Martinez, who was at the scene of the accident Monday morning.
“I know he wants me to stay strong and keep doing what I’m doing right now,” Martinez said of his brother. “So, he’s watching over me right now.”
Olsson, who was trapped inside the cab of his truck, upside down, was freed after about 20 minutes. He suffered minor injuries.
The car owner’s insurance company will not be shocked to learn that the stolen vehicle was a Kia. Some Kias from model years 2011 to 2021 were designed without vehicle engine immobilizers, making them susceptible to theft using USBs or thumb drives. After a group in Wisconsin – the “Kia Boyz” – posted a TikTok video showing how easily certain models can be stolen, theft rates for Kias, as well as some Hyundais, have gone ballistic. The State Farm and Progressive insurance companies stopped issuing new policies for Kias and Hyundais and other companies have raised rates on those vehicles.
One of the additional consequences: A spike in the number of traffic fatalities and injuries to young car thieves who steal Kias and take them on joyrides.
In Buffalo, N.Y., last October, four teens were killed in a high-speed crash caused by a 16-year-old driving a stolen Kia SUV. The parents of two of those killed filed suit against Kia, which says it plans to correct the problem with a software update. Similar crashes involving stolen Kias have occurred in Chicago, Minneapolis and other cities.
The moral of the story: If you own a Kia or a Hyundai that requires a key, get a steering wheel lock and ask your dealer if you need a software update for your car’s ignition.
If you’re a parent, try to get to know your child’s friends.