Police Investigating Whether Car That Fatally Pinned Anton Yelchin Had Gear Design Issues
California police are investigating whether the Jeep Grand Cherokee that fatally pinned Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin had a gearshift design that prompted a recall and may have made it unclear to drivers whether the vehicle was in park or neutral modes, PEOPLE confirms.
Yelchin’s body was found Sunday pinned between the car and the gate of his home in Studio City, California, after the 27-year-old’s vehicle rolled backward down the steep driveway, a Los Angeles Police Department spokesperson tells PEOPLE.
The spokesperson says the car was a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee – the same model that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles recalled in April after the vehicle was investigated for a possible transmission issue, an FCA official tells PEOPLE.
“We are looking into that,” the LAPD spokesperson says. “The investigation is still ongoing and the traffic detectives will look at all of those factors as they would in any traffic collision investigation. So, at this time we’re not sure what caused it, but that’s something investigators are looking at.”
The FCA official tells PEOPLE that 2014 and 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees, manufactured between July 16, 2012 and Dec. 22, 2015, were recalled by the company after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigated a possible transmission defect.
The vehicle’s gear-shift design makes it difficult to tell what gear the vehicle is in, according to a report from the NHTSA.
In the report, the NHTSA said that “drivers erroneously concluding that their vehicle’s transmission is in the ‘park’ position may be struck by the vehicle and injured if they attempt to get out of the vehicle while the engine is running and the parking brake is not engaged.”
In a statement to PEOPLE, FCA officials said it is too early “to speculate on the cause of this tragedy.”
“FCA US extends its most sincere condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Yelchin. The company is in contact with the authorities and is conducting a thorough investigation.”
The L.A. County Medical Examiner’s Office told PEOPLE that it’s believed Yelchin’s vehicle was not properly parked before he walked behind the car. Lt. Larry Dietz with the L.A. County coroner’s office told CBS News that the office “concluded that Yelchin’s death was an accident” caused by “blunt traumatic asphyxia.”
Dietz said it appeared Yelchin hadn’t properly put his car in park – he added that it was “just one of those freak accidents.”
No cause of death has been determined yet, but preliminary results were that Yelchin had head and chest injuries.
LAPD Media relations officer Andrew Neiman tells PEOPLE that police have not yet determined what caused the crash.
“At this time, all indications appear to lead our investigators to believe this was a tragic accident,” he said. “The investigation is ongoing so we have not made any final determination as to the cause of the accident only that it does appear to be accidental and not an intentional act.”
As of April, the automaker was aware of 41 injuries potentially related to the transmission defect, the company said in a statement.
However, “the vehicles involved in these events were inspected and no evidence of equipment failure was found.”
The company official says that the vehicles have “warning chimes” and lights that let the driver know what gear the car is in.
“However, investigation suggested these measures may be insufficient to deter some drivers from exiting their vehicles without selecting ‘park.’ ”
The company said it would enhance warnings and “transmission-shift strategy” on the vehicles, according to the statement. At this time, all indications appear to lead our investigators to believe this was a tragic accident. The investigation is ongoing so we have not made any final determination as to the cause of the accident only that it does appear to be accidental and not an intentional act.