When Carol Nash woke up feeling sick one morning last year, her son, Keith, offered to take her 2014 Kia Soul to get some groceries so she didn’t have to get out of bed.
“I thought he already left until I heard that first explosion,” Nash said while sitting in her living room on a recent afternoon. “And then I heard somebody holler, ‘Go out the window!’”
Nash ran outside to the parking lot of her Sharonville apartment to see her vehicle engulfed in flames. Her son was still inside.
“It was so hot, I couldn’t get him out of the car without probably killing myself,” Nash said.
Nash watched helplessly as Keith burned to death inside the car.
“To watch my child die in front of my eyes, I wouldn’t wish that on anybody,” Nash said. “I want closure and I want answers for him.”
That was in April 2017, and even with hundreds of other complaints of Kias catching fire, the company has still not launched an investigation.
So far Nash’s son is the only reported death from such fires.
But how did the fire that killed Keith start?
Carol Nash knew her son did drugs. But when she found out he had fentanyl and heroin in his system when he died in the fire, “I was shocked.” She said she didn’t know they were in his system that day, but she is sure he wasn’t doing drugs in the car just before the fire started.
Keith’s cause of death is listed as smoke and gas inhalation, and police found no drug paraphernalia or residue in the car.
According to a police report, an investigator said the burn pattern on the car suggested the fire started in the engine, and witnesses said they heard the engine revving before it exploded and caught fire.
But investigators had to close the case in part because the fire burned so hot that they couldn’t determine exactly how it started.
“I want closure,” Nash said. “I want answers.”
Nash hired an attorney to try to verify the cause of her son’s death independently, but that attorney told her the car was burned so badly there was nothing left to test. The I-Team reached out to Nash’s attorney for comment. We are waiting to hear back.
The I-Team checked with the Center for Auto Safety, a consumer watchdog group, for driver complaints about Kia fires. It pulls data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. We discovered 29 other drivers have filed complaints about the Soul, the same Kia model that caught fire with Keith Nash inside, for the years 2010-2015.
Those reports show some cars caught fire while the vehicles were moving – but others started while the cars were stopped, like in Nash’s case.
Our sister station in Tampa has also interviewed a half dozen drivers whose Kias have burned, and they discovered other patterns in NHTSA’s data as reported by the Center for Auto Safety.
Nationwide, more than 400 drivers have reported fires involving Kias or Hyundais (Kia is an affiliate company of Hyundai).
Those include 50 fires reported in 2011-2014 Kia Sorento SUVs, and 41 more in 2011-2014 Kia Optima sedans. That same data also shows 14 reported fires in Hyundai Santa Fes, and 56 fires Hyundai Sonatas for model years 2011-2014.
By comparison, Toyota and Honda drivers in similar-sized SUVs and sedans reported 13 fires for cars sold during that same time period.
Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, said those patterns are red flags, and called on NHTSA to investigate.
“It’s highly unusual to see this number of fires related to a specific make and year,” Levine said.
So far, Hyundai and Kia haven’t investigated the fires.
“They don’t seem to have any explanation for why these fires are happening,” Levine said. “There does not seem to be any urgency – we have hundreds of cars over multiple models catching on fire.”
And, the federal government hasn’t required them to.
In June, NHTSA told our I-Team in Tampa that it was reviewing any non-collision fire complaints.
In July, NHTSA told the office of Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, it didn’t see any need to investigate further.
Carol Nash thinks that’s shady accountability.
“It aggravates me to no end that big companies don’t have to be held accountable for things to happen,” Nash said.
Nash said she hasn’t contacted Kia even though she wants answers.
Instead, she tries to focus on the bright spots in life – and not erasing the last words Keith wrote to her: “I Love You, Mom!!”
“To watch my child die in front of my eyes,” Nash said, “I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. And to be standing there helpless and not be able to do anything, not pleasant at all.”
The 9 On Your Side I-Team reached out to Hyundai and Kia for comment on this story, but we haven’t heard back.