The 16-year-old driver who allegedly crashed a stolen SUV and killed four teenage passengers in Buffalo last month was hit with manslaughter charges Tuesday, prosecutors said.
The teenager, who was not identified by authorities, was indicted on four counts of second-degree manslaughter, the Erie County District Attorney’s Office said in a press release.
The driver is accused of pushing the gas down on the stolen Kia so recklessly that the four people killed — and another passenger who survived — were all ejected from the vehicle when it crashed.
The apparent joyride occurred after the Kia Sportage was allegedly stolen in what police believe might be connected to a TikTok challenge that encourages people to break into Kia and Hyundai cars with phone chargers.
The so-called “Kia challenge,” shows TikTok users how to hotwire the two types of cars with a USB cord and a screwdriver.
WGRZ-TV reported the teen driver was released without bail at his arraignment Tuesday. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The teen was reportedly released to the custody of his grandmother and required to wear an ankle monitor — over the objection of prosecutors.
“I still don’t think it’s right that this kid is out playing video games when on Thursday at Thanksgiving, there’s going to be an empty chair of four individuals at the Thanksgiving dinner table,” Erie County District Attorney John Flynn told reporters.
The gruesome crash occurred around 6:45 a.m. on Oct. 24 after the SUV was reported stolen earlier that morning, the district attorney’s office said. The SUV hit a concrete embankment at a high speed and flipped backwards, Flynn said.
The victims were all friends of the driver, his defense attorney said in court.
A 17-year-old boy, a 16-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl were all pronounced dead at the scene while a 19-year-old boy died at the hospital. Another passenger, a 14-year-old girl, was hospitalized with serious physical injuries, but was later released.
Two of the fatal victims’ families filed a federal lawsuit against Kia Corp. and Kia America Inc., accusing them of negligence and creating a public nuisance. The legal action argues Kia failed to place an anti-theft device in some of their vehicles that would have made them harder to steal.
The teen driver will appear at a pre-trial conference on Nov. 28 where prosecutors will argue to keep the case in adult court. He was treated for only minor injuries following the crash.
The driver also faces one count each of first-degree assault, second-degree assault and criminal possession of stolen property in the third-degree, Erie prosecutors said.