Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin could likely be the first person known to be killed by a Jeep Grand Cherokee under recall for a dangerous electronic gear shift defect, federal safety regulators said.
Mr. Yelcin, 27, was crushed to death Saturday night when his Jeep Grand Cherokee rolled backward and pressed him against the security gate outside his Los Angeles home. Pictures of the scene show a large visible dent in the metal gate where Mr. Yelchin became pinned behind his Jeep.
“This is the first fatality we’re aware of that may be related to this safety defect,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said in a statement about the actor’s death.
Fiat Chrysler, which owns the Jeep brand and manufactures the vehicles, recalled about 250,000 of its 2014 and 2015 model-year Grand Cherokees in April to repair the defect.
The problem occurs in the “Monostable” shifter designed by German supplier ZF and integrated into various Jeep, Dodge, and Chrysler models. According to Jalopnik, Fiat Chrysler is responsible for the proper integration of the device and for developing safeguards to work in conjunction with it.
“The mushroom-shaped unit does not slide up and down entirely the way a traditional automatic shifter does, but rather can be moved back or forward while changing gears, after which it then returns to center,” Jalopnik explains.
The shifter has been the source of numerous complaints because it “is not intuitive and provides poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver, increasing the potential for unintended gear selection,” the NHTSA said.
At the time Fiat Chrysler recalled the affected Jeeps, the shifter was blamed for more than 500 crashes, resulting in 41 injuries and 308 property damage claims but no deaths.
The most common complaint submitted to NHTSA about the shifter was that it left drivers with the impression that their vehicle was parked when it wasn’t, and as a result the vehicle could start rolling. Some drivers reported parking their Grand Cherokee, exiting the vehicle to open a gate or door leaving the engine running, and then finding the vehicle rolling away because it actually had been out of gear.
Although federal regulators have linked Mr. Yelchin’s death to the faulty Grand Cherokee shifter, the accident officially remains under investigation. NHTSA officials are working with Los Angeles law enforcement authorities and Fiat Chrysler officials to investigate the case.
Fiat Chrysler said it would be accelerating repairs for the confusing gear shifter, which has been installed in about 1.1 million of its vehicles, including the recalled Jeeps.