Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said on Monday it would conduct a "thorough investigation" of a crash involving a recalled 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee that killed Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin.
Yelchin, 27, famous for his role as Pavel Chekov in the most recent Star Trek movies, was found dead early Sunday, pinned against a gate post by his Grand Cherokee, website TMZ.com reported.
"FCA US extends its most sincere condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Yelchin," FCA said in a statement. "The company is in contact with the authorities and is conducting a thorough investigation. It is premature to speculate on the cause of this tragedy.”
Yelchin's body was discovered by friends outside his home in Southern California about 1 a.m., TMZ said. The brick gate post and metal security gate are at the bottom of a steep incline.
In April, Fiat Chrysler recalled 811,586 2014-15 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2012-14 Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans in the United States equipped with what is called a monostable shifter, similar to that in high-end German sports cars.
A monostable shifter has just three positions: front, middle and back. The shifter rests in the middle, and the user cycles either up or down through park, reverse, neutral, drive and low.
In its voluntary recall, FCA told consumers it would install upgraded software to make sure vehicles that were in a gear other than park would not move if the driver’s side door was open. It also would install additional warnings to alert drivers that their vehicles were not in park.
Authorities said Yelchin died of blunt trauma asphyxia, TMZ reported. It was unknown whether Yelchin had scheduled a service appointment for the Grand Cherokee recall or whether the vehicle already had been fixed. FCA mailed notices to affected customers in mid-May, a spokesman said.
In its recall notice, FCA advised consumers to read their owner’s manuals to familiarize themselves more fully with how the shift mechanism is intended to work.
FCA replaced monostable shifters in the vehicles, beginning with the Charger and 300 in 2015 and the Grand Cherokee in 2016, with more traditional gated shifters. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in April that it had received over 300 complaints, including reports of 121 crashes of vehicles that had rolled away, some striking buildings, drivers or other cars. FCA said at the time it was aware of at least 41 injuries potentially related to the design.
Yelchin would be the first death reported to be linked to the defect. In 2014, a U.S. study said nearly 100 people were killed and 2,000 injured annually from vehicles that rolled away between 2008 and 2011.
Many of the crashes occurred soon after the vehicles were purchased. One complaint said that in September, a new Grand Cherokee in Leonardtown, Md., rolled forward and struck headstones in a cemetery.
Also last year, a Michigan owner put his 2015 Jeep SUV into park to go into a gas station. The SUV began rolling backwards and hit another parked vehicle, injuring a passenger.
NHTSA, which upgraded a probe into the rollaway injuries and complaints in February, said in April that the shifter was "clearly a safety issue" leading to hundreds of crashes and dozens of injuries.
Los Angeles Police Department spokeswoman Jane Kim said in a phone interview on Monday that investigators were aware of the recall issue with the Jeep and were looking at whether that played any role in the fatality, among other possible factors.
A top automotive safety advocate said in a statement that Yelchin’s death "is unfortunately the latest example of industry and government incompetence in the face of vehicle safety defects."
Clarence Ditlow, executive direct of the Center for Auto Safety in Washington, D.C., said he sent a letter to Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne calling on the automaker to:
Ditlow also said Marchionne should apologize to Yelchin's family.
Yelchin's death comes a month before the release of Star Trek Beyond. Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at box office tracker.comScore, said the actor's death is unlikely to impact the film's performance at the box office.
"It doesn't turn people away but it is bittersweet and poignant when that actor appears on screen," Dergarabedian said. "He was so likeable on screen, particularly as that character."
The cast and creators of "Star Trek Beyond" paid tribute to Yelchin on Sunday, with producer J.J. Abrams posting on Twitter, "You were brilliant. You were funny as hell, and supremely talented. And you weren't here nearly long enough."
Viacom Inc's Paramount Pictures, the studio behind the "Star Trek" franchise, said in a statement on Monday, "All of us at Paramount join the world in mourning the untimely passing of Anton Yelchin. As a member of the Star Trek family, he was beloved by so many and he will missed by all."
Reuters contributed to this report.
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