The SUV that rolled down a driveway and killed Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin was being recalled because the gear shifters have confused drivers, causing the vehicles to roll away unexpectedly, government records show.
Yelchin, 27, a rising actor best known for playing Chekov in the rebooted series, died on Sunday after his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee pinned him against a mailbox pillar and security fence at his home, Los Angeles police said.
The 2015 model-year Grand Cherokees were part of a global recall of 1.1 million vehicles announced by automaker Fiat Chrysler in April, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration records show.
The agency urged the recall because of complaints from drivers who had trouble telling if they had put the automatic transmissions in park. If they were not in park and a driver left the vehicle, it could roll away.
Fiat Chrysler expected to send recall notification letters to owners on May 16, according to a memo to dealers, but it’s not known whether Yelchin received or saw his letter. The company is working on a fix and expects to have a software update ready in July or August.
Los Angeles police are investigating Yelchin’s death. Officer Jane Kim says the investigation will look into whether the actor’s vehicle was in gear or in park at the time of the accident.
The actor had gotten out of the vehicle momentarily, but police didn’t say why he was behind it when it started rolling.
A Los Angeles coroner’s official says Yelchin’s death has been ruled an accident.
Coroner’s spokesman Ed Winter says an autopsy performed on Sunday determined the 27-year-old actor died of blunt force asphyxia.
Winter says any toxicology results will take months to analyse.
Fiat Chrysler said in a statement on Monday that it was investigating and it was premature to speculate on the cause of the crash.
Yelchin’s death was the first that might be related to the recall, the traffic safety administration said, although several serious injuries have been reported. The agency said on Monday it’s in contact with police about the cause of the crash, and it urged owners of the recalled vehicles to make sure they’re in park before exiting and to use the parking brake.
As of April, the company had reports of 212 crashes, 41 injuries and 308 property damage claims potentially caused by the shifters, it said in documents filed with the government.
The recalled vehicles, including nearly 812,000 in the US, have an electronic shift lever that toggles forward or backward to let the driver select the gear instead of moving along a track like a conventional shifter. A light shows which gear is selected, but to get from drive to park, drivers must push the lever forward three times.
The recalled vehicles sound a chime and issue a dashboard warning if the driver’s door is opened while they are not in park. But the push-button ignition won’t shut off the engine if not in park, increasing the risk of the vehicles rolling away after drivers have gotten out.
The Grand Cherokee gear shifters were changed in the 2016 model year so that it works like those in older cars.