BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The vehicle involved in the crash that killed four teens Monday morning was reported stolen on Sunday night. The vehicle was a Kia, which according to Buffalo Police, is a brand of vehicle that is being stolen more often.

Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said this uptick in Kia thefts is fueled by an online challenge, known as the “Kia Challenge.”

The challenge walks people through the steps of how to start certain models of Kias, and even Hyundais, without having a key. In most cases, people just need a screwdriver and a USB cable.
Local law enforcement says this is very concerning, because it makes people a target for theft, and could lead to dangerous situations.

Joseph Milosich, of the Tonawanda Police Department, said there’s a few things drivers can do to prevent their cars from being stolen. These steps include parking cars in a garage — if you have that option — making sure your car doors are locked, and buying a steering wheel lock.

“We don’t want anybody victimized and we don’t want anybody getting hurt,” he said. “These are games almost, right? And there’s a lot of youth getting involved in that and that can be scary, right? Because there’s a lot at stake here and in particular, it’s dangerous when you get things like joy riding and cruising around in vehicles — there’s a lot at stake.”

Buffalo Police have not said if this online challenge played a role in Monday’s crash, but say it could have. It is still under investigation.

While local law enforcement says this challenge is very concerning, a social media expert at the University at Buffalo said it’s unlikely that these videos could cause someone, who otherwise would not steal a car, to do so.

“Isolating a specific video that seems detrimental, and assuming that it has a huge impact over people’s behavior, is just unreasonable from an empirical point of view. That’s not how media effects work,” said Yotam Ophir, ph.D., an assistant professor in UB’s communication department, specializing in media effects, misinformation, & extremism. “Most people don’t know about these challenges, most people don’t care about these challenges, and even if they watch these videos and find them amusing, it doesn’t mean they’re going to walk out and steal a car.”

Sarah Minkewicz is an Emmy-nominated reporter and Buffalo native who has been a part of the News 4 team since 2019. Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahMinkewicz and click here to see more of her work.