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'Star Trek' actor Anton Yelchin's SUV was recalled in April over rollaway risk

'Star Trek' actor Anton Yelchin's SUV was recalled in April over rollaway risk
Actor Anton Yelchin, photographed at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015. (Jay L. Clendenin)

The model of the sport utility vehicle that lurched down a driveway and killed "Star Trek" actor Anton Yelchin had recently been recalled after federal regulators found that its gear shifting could confuse drivers and possibly cause vehicles to roll away, according to government records.

Yelchin, who played Chekov in the revamped sci-fi series, was fatally injured early Sunday by his Jeep Grand Cherokee, which rolled in reverse down his hillside Studio City home's driveway, pinning him against a brick pillar and a metal security gate, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

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LAPD Capt. Beverly Lewis, who oversees the Valley traffic division, confirmed to The Times that the vehicle was a 2015 model.

In April, Fiat Chrysler Automotive voluntarily recalled about 1.1 million cars and sport utility vehicles after an investigation found that electronic shifts could spring back to their previous position after being moved to a different gear, according to National Highway Transportation Safety Administration records.

A black metal gate that blocks Anton Yelchin's sloping driveway appears bent and damaged on June 19.
A black metal gate that blocks Anton Yelchin's sloping driveway appears bent and damaged on June 19. (Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

Drivers could mistakenly believe that the car was placed in park and exit the vehicle, and if the parking brake was not applied and the car was still running, the car could roll away and cause injury, according to agency reports. As of April, at least 41 injuries were allegedly linked to the recall issue.

The NHTSA also found that operation of the gear shift was "not intuitive" and gave "poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver, increasing the potential for unintended gear selection."

The recall included 2014 and 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees manufactured between July 2012 and December 2015. The owners of affected vehicles received notices in the mail in mid-May, warning motorists to always activate the parking brake before leaving the car, according to a copy of the letter filed with federal regulators. The company said it hoped to have a remedy to the issue by the final quarter of 2016.

In a statement, Fiat Chrysler expressed sympathy to Yelchin's family and said the company will conduct "a thorough investigation of this tragic incident," adding: "It is premature to speculate on its cause at this time."

Lewis said the LAPD's investigation into Yelchin's death is in its preliminary stages.

Friends went to the 27-year-old actor's gated hillside home shortly after 1 a.m. Sunday, when he didn't show up for a rehearsal, LAPD Officer Jenny Houser said.

Investigators with the Los Angeles County coroner's office concluded that Yelchin's death was an accident caused by blunt traumatic asphyxia, Lt. Larry Dietz said. It appeared that Yelchin had not properly put his car in park, Dietz added.

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Det. William Bustos said the crash was partly captured by a surveillance camera and that he is working with the security company to obtain more evidence. The detective said the actor's death did not appear to be criminal or suspicious.

Former classmates and local media gathered Sunday afternoon outside Yelchin's English-style three-bedroom home, which is partly shielded by mature trees and tucked below a winding hillside street above Ventura Boulevard.

The black metal gate that blocked the home's sloping driveway appeared bent and damaged.

Yelchin was born March 11, 1989, in Russia, the only son of Viktor Yelchin and Irina Korina. His parents were celebrity figure skaters in the former Soviet Union, but when their son was 6 months old they fled to the U.S. and settled in Los Angeles.

"We were afraid for our son," Viktor Yelchin told The Times in 1989. "It is a very bad situation over there. I would get angry, too -- I'd say, 'Why should we have to buy things on the black market? Why should we have to stand in line?' "

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Yelchin began acting as a child, picking up roles on television shows and independent films. He starred in the 2007 crime thriller "Alpha Dog" and was in the teen comedy "Charlie Bartlett."

But his biggest role to date was in the rebooted "Star Trek" films. The third installment in the series, "Star Trek Beyond," comes out in July.

While pursuing an acting career, he also attended a public magnet school in the San Fernando Valley, Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies, from fourth through 12th grade, according to two former classmates who paid tribute Sunday afternoon outside Yelchin's home.

Drake Doremus, who directed Yelchin in the 2011 film "Like Crazy," praised the late actor for his humor and charm and offered condolences to his family.

"Anton was one of a kind. Such an old soul who was one of the most sincere but also funniest people I have ever met," Doremus said in a statement. "He taught me what being a humble and hard-working artist is all about."

Publicist Jennifer Allen said Yelchin's family had asked for privacy.

Staff writer Kate Mather contributed to this report.

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UPDATES:

4:36 p.m.: This article has been updated with additional information on the vehicle recall.

This article was originally published at 10:46 a.m.

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