Fiat Chrysler spotlighted by ‘Star Trek’ actor’s death – USA TODAY
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said Monday it is too early to conclude that a problem with the gear shifter in a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee led to the tragic death of Anton Yelchin, an actor best known for his role as Chekov in recent Star Trek movies.
Nevertheless, Yelchin’s death has vaulted a relatively unusual recall of more than 1.1 million of Fiat Chrysler’s SUVs and sedans into the national spotlight. By Monday afternoon, the combination of his status as a talented young actor with a bright future and the tragic nature of his death was attracting global attention.
Fiat Chrysler said in April it would add safety measures to a gear shifter mechanism that some drivers were leaving in the wrong position when they exited the vehicle.
The recall was unusual because the shifters perform as they were intended to perform and most automotive recalls are for parts or systems that are defective rather than confusing.
Yelchin, 27, died on Saturday after his car rolled backward down his steep driveway and pinned him against a brick mailbox pillar and security fence, according to Los Angeles Police Department spokeswoman Jenny Houser.
Yelchin played Chekov in Star Trek Beyond, a movie that hits theaters on July 22. He also played Chekov in Star Trek in 2009 and in Star Trek Into Darkness in 2013 and was applauded by fans for the way he portrayed the legendary, fictional Starfleet navigator.
Fiat Chrysler “extends its most sincere condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Yelchin,” the automaker 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.”
Fiat Chrysler is recalling more than 1.1 million model year 2014 and 2015 Jeep Cherokees as well as 2012 to 2014 model year Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans. Los Angeles Police confirmed Monday that Yelchin’s car was a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The shifters in those vehicles are equipped with electronic shift levers that return to the same central position after a different gear is selected.
In April, Fiat Chrysler said it was aware of 41 injuries that are potentially related to the issue but also said the vehicles involved in these events were inspected and no evidence of equipment failure was found.
The automaker said today recall notices have been sent to customers along with instructions about how to properly use the shfiter.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began its investigation last August and expanded it in February. In February, NHTSA said it was concerned that the design of the shifters is confusing for drivers.
“Testing …indicates that operation of the (electronic) shifter is not intuitive and provides poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver, increasing the potential for unintended gear selection,” the agency said in documents published on its website.
Today, the agency said it is collecting information about Yelchin’s accident and plans to issue a statement later this afternoon.