'Star Trek' actor's death prompts new calls for auto recall fix

Tue Jun 21, 2016 7:20pm EDT
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By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - "Star Trek" actor Anton Yelchin's fatal accident involving a recalled 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee is renewing calls from safety advocates to fix flaws in the U.S. recall system.

Yelchin was killed when his SUV rolled backward in the steep driveway of his Los Angeles home and pinned him against a brick wall and a fence. The accident is under investigation, and it is not known whether the specific recall defect, which can cause the vehicle to roll away after a driver exits, led to Yelchin's death.

But consumer safety advocates say the incident shows an urgent need to improve how recalls are handled, with a record number of unrepaired U.S. vehicles still on the road as drivers wait for fixes that can take many months to arrive.

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, said Yelchin's accident is touching a nerve in a way that traditional recalls have not. "Many consumers may think: 'If it could happen to Chekov, it could happen to me,'" he said, referring to the Star Trek character portrayed by Yelchin.

Yelchin's SUV was one of 1.1 million vehicles recalled by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV in April over the potential to roll away. Forty-one injuries, as well as crashes and property damage, have been linked to the problem.

Los Angeles police and the automaker are separately investigating whether the recall defect caused the crash. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it is in touch with both to hear their findings.

Fiat Chrysler told dealers last month that a fix would be ready no later than July or August after initially telling owners a fix wouldn't be ready until late this year. Owners still have not gotten official notice of their fix, but some dealers are now making appointments to repair some of the recalled vehicles, company spokesman Eric Mayne said.

Citing Yelchin's death, Ditlow urged Fiat Chrysler Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne in a letter to notify owners not to drive such vehicles until they are repaired and to provide free loaner or rental cars in the interim.   Continued...

Cast member Anton Yelchin poses during the photo call for the movie "Burying the ex" at the 71st Venice Film Festival September 4, 2014. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/File Photo