Jeep that Crushed Young Actor in his Driveway Was under Recall

The 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee that rolled down a driveway and killed the actor Anton Yelchin on June 19 was a model that had been recalled for a gearshift problem that lets drivers accidentally leave the car in neutral when they think it is in park.

Mr. Yelchin was killed when the Jeep rolled down his steep driveway, crushing him against a concrete-reinforced mailbox, the New York Times reports. Police investigators and automaker Fiat Chrysler say it is too soon to say what caused the accident, and a police spokeswoman said she did not know whether the Jeep’s transmission was in neutral.

Mr. Yelchin’s Jeep was part of a recall of almost 812,000 vehicles announced in April that included 2014 and 2015 Grand Cherokee models. That recall was prompted by an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), after vehicle owner complaints and reports of dozens of related injuries, according to the Times. In a statement released Monday evening, NHTSA said, “This the first fatality we’re aware of that may be related to this safety defect and vehicle recall.” It is not known whether Mr. Yelchin was aware of the recall.

The vehicles included in the recall—2012-14 Dodge Chargers and Chrysler 300s, as well as the Jeeps—use an unconventional lever to shift the automatic transmission. The lever does not move to a different position for each gear but returns to a center position. The driver must check the shifter to make sure the proper gear is selected. Drivers have erroneously thought their vehicle is in park when it wasn’t, and vehicles have begun to move when the driver gets out. These episodes have resulted in injuries and property damage, the Times reports.

NHTSA said it was “in contact with local authorities and Fiat Chrysler to understand all of the facts related to this tragic crash, including whether or not this was caused by the current issue under recall.” NHTSA urged owners to “take extra care to make sure their car is in park and turned completely off before exiting” until the repair can be made, the Times reports. When the recall was announced, Fiat Chrysler said it was aware of 41 injuries related to the gearshift problem. In a notice to owners, Fiat Chrysler said “a permanent remedy for this condition is currently under development” and that the automaker hoped to “finalize” it by the fourth quarter. The company urged owners to use the parking brake and always check to make sure the vehicle is in the correct gear before getting out.

Since the recall was announced, NHTSA has received at least eight additional reports of Grand Cherokees that had rolled away and crashed, although no injuries were reported. One report came NHTSA from a Grand Cherokee owner whose vehicle began to roll away as the woman was trying to take her toddler out of the back seat. The woman was able to jump into the driver’s seat but as she tried to stop the Jeep, her foot slipped from the brake pedal to the gas pedal and the car crashed into a house. There was significant damage to the house and the car, but no one was injured, according to the report.

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a consumer advocacy group, said that until repairs can be made, Fiat Chrysler should tell owners not to drive these vehicles and should provide loaner vehicles, according to the Times.

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