Chicago man charged with driving stolen car, using a USB plug as the key

Damon Underwood and a YouTube image of a USB plug used to operate a vehicle. | El Mechanic; CPD

Earlier this month, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office warned that thefts of Kia and Hyundai automobiles surged 767% in July as thieves capitalized on a design flaw that allows the vehicles to be stolen with little more than a USB plug. The thefts are fueled by nationwide phenomena known as “Kia boys” and the “Kia challenge” that recently made their way to the Chicago area.

Last month, 642 Kia and Hyundai thefts were reported in Cook County, up from 74 in July 2021, according to the sheriff’s office.

Despite the increase in thefts, few people have been charged with driving stolen cars with USB plugs in the ignition. In fact, until Saturday, our bond court monitors had not heard of any such cases in Chicago.

That changed over the weekend when Damon Underwood, 18, was brought before Judge Kelly McCarthy to face a felony charge of possessing a stolen motor vehicle.

Prosecutors said Chicago cops saw the lights turn off on a black Hyundai Sonata as they approached. Underwood stepped out of the driver’s seat, and another man left the passenger side, Assistant State’s Attorney Steven Haamid said. They ran up a side street.

Officers ran the license plate and discovered the vehicle had been stolen, so they radioed descriptions of the people who fled the vehicle. Underwood was stopped nearby, and an officer who saw the people bailing out of the Hyundai recognized him as the driver, according to Haamid.

Haamid went on to say that the steering column and ignition were peeled and that the “key” was a USB plug.

Underwood has never been arrested before. His public defender said he is a full-time high school student.

Judge McCarthy released him on a recognizance bond and ordered him to stay in the house from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

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