Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the parent company of the Jeep brand, is investigating whether a recalled gear shift contributed to the death of 27-year-old Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin.
The young actor was found trapped between his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee and a brick wall after the car rolled down his driveway and struck him about 1 a.m. in the morning. Friends discovered his body on June 19, 2016 and the coroner confirmed he died of blunt trauma asphyxia.
Victor and Irina Yelchin, parents of the actor, filed a wrongful death and product liability lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming the auto maker put design ahead of safety when it created the gear shift, the Associated Press reports.
There has been some confusion among drivers of the Jeep, Chrysler 300 sedans and Dodge Chargers that have similar electronic gear shifters because owners think the car is in park, but it shifts out of park and moves or rolls away.
The investigation is looking into whether the the company’s recalled Monostable electronic shift is to blame for the young man’s death. The problem appears to be the electronic gear selector in these vehicles returns to the upright position once the driver puts in in park or drive, making it unclear if the vehicle is actually in park. There are no grooves to select a gear as there typically are in most cars.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that the shifter has been linked to 68 injuries and 266 collisions. It was recalled in April 2016, just prior to the fatal crash involving Yelchin. His death is the only one known at this time possibly linked to the gear shift. The incidents involved roll away vehicles where drivers exited their cars after they thought they had placed it in park.
Owners of 1.1 million affected 2014-15 Jeep Grand Cherokees, as well as 2012-14 Chrysler 300 sedans and 2012-14 Dodge Chargers, were sent notices in the mail by Fiat Chrysler back in May warning them of the defective gear shifter. It’s unknown whether Yelchin was aware of the defect or if his vehicle was serviced for the problem prior to his accident.
The automaker says a software patch will alert drivers by sounding chimes when a driver exits a vehicle if the car is not in park. There is also software that was made to prevent the vehicle moving if it’s in drive or reverse.
Contact your Jeep dealer or call the Fiat Chrysler recall line at 800-853-1403 for more information.
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