LOS ANGELES — The SUV that rolled down a driveway and killed “Star Trek” actor Anton Yelchin was being recalled because the gear shifters have confused drivers, causing the vehicles to roll away unexpectedly, government records show.
Yelchin, 27, a rising actor best known for playing Chekov in the rebooted series, died Sunday after his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee pinned him against a mailbox pillar and security fence at his home, Los Angeles police said.
The 2015 model-year Grand Cherokees were part of a global recall of 1.1 million vehicles announced by Fiat Chrysler in April, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration records show.
The agency urged the recall because of complaints from drivers who had trouble telling if they had put the automatic transmissions in park. If they were not in park and a driver left the vehicle, it could roll away.
Fiat Chrysler, which makes Jeeps, said in a statement Monday that it was investigating and it was premature to speculate on the cause of the crash. It offered sympathies to Yelchin’s friends and family.
Investigators were looking into the position of Yelchin’s gear shift at the time of the accident, Officer Jane Kim said. The actor had gotten out of the vehicle momentarily, but police didn’t say why he was behind it when it started rolling.
Yelchin’s friends found him after he failed to show up for an audition early Sunday.
Coroner’s officials ruled Yelchin’s death an accident after an autopsy. The results of any toxicology tests would not be known for months, coroner spokesman Ed Winter said.
Yelchin’s death tragically cut short the promising career of an actor whom audiences were still getting to know and who had great artistic ambition. “Star Trek Beyond,” the third film in the series, comes out in July.
Director J.J. Abrams, who cast Yelchin in the franchise, wrote in a statement that he was “brilliant … kind … funny as hell, and supremely talented.”
His death was felt throughout the industry.
“What a rare and beautiful soul with his unstoppable passion for life,” said Jodie Foster, whose 2011 film “The Beaver” co-starred Yelchin. “He was equal parts serious thinker and the most fun little brother you could ever dream of.”
“He was a ferocious movie buff who put us all to shame,” said Gabe Klinger, who directed Yelchin in the upcoming film “Porto,” likely to be released this fall. “He was watching four or five movies every night.”
Yelchin began acting as a child, taking small roles in independent films and various television shows, such as “ER,” ”The Practice,“ and ”Curb Your Enthusiasm.“ His breakout big-screen role came opposite Anthony Hopkins in 2001’s ”Hearts in Atlantis.“
Yelchin, an only child, was born in Russia. His parents were professional figure skaters who moved the family to the United States when Yelchin was a baby. He briefly flirted with skating lessons, too, before discovering that he wasn’t very skilled on the ice. That led him to acting class.
“I loved the improvisation part of it the most, because it was a lot like just playing around with stuff. There was something about it that I just felt completely comfortable doing and happy doing,” Yelchin told The Associated Press in 2011 while promoting the romantic drama “Like Crazy.” He starred opposite Felicity Jones.
The discipline that Yelchin learned from his athlete parents translated into his work as an actor, which he treated with seriousness and professionalism, said Klinger, the director.
Yelchin seemed to fit in anywhere in Hollywood. He could do big sci-fi franchises and vocal work in “The Smurfs,” while also appearing in more eccentric and artier fare, like Jim Jarmusch’s vampire film “Only Lovers Left Alive” and Jeremy Saulnier’s horror thriller “Green Room,” a cult favourite that came out earlier this year.
Klinger recalled a conversation with Jarmusch about Yelchin before Klinger cast him in “Porto.”
“Jim was like, ‘Watch out. Anton read Dostoyevsky when he was like 11 years old!”’ Klinger said.