The 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee that rolled backward down a driveway and killed the actor Anton Yelchin early Sunday was a model that Fiat Chrysler has recalled for a gearshift issue that has confused drivers, leading them to accidentally leave the car in neutral when they think it is safely in park.
Los Angeles Police investigators and the carmaker said on Monday that it was too soon to determine the cause of the accident. But Mr. Yelchin was killed after he got out of his Jeep and it rolled down his steep driveway, crushing him against a concrete-reinforced mailbox, a police spokeswoman, Liliana Preciado, said.
Ms. Preciado said she did not know if the vehicle’s transmission was in neutral. But Mr. Yelchin’s Jeep was part of a recall by Fiat Chrysler in April of almost 812,000 vehicles including the 2014 and 2015 Grand Cherokee models. That recall was prompted by an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, after complaints by car owners and reports of dozens of related injuries.
Fiat Chrysler has been a prime target of the government’s efforts to penalize automakers for lax safety practices. Last year, federal regulators accused Fiat Chrysler of failing to conduct recalls and complete repairs in a timely fashion, and hit the company with $105 million in penalties.
The safety administration released a statement Monday evening saying, “This the first fatality we’re aware of that may be related to this safety defect and vehicle recall.”
The regulator also said it was “in contact with local authorities and Fiat Chrysler to understand all of the facts related to this tragic crash, including whether or not this was caused by the current issue under recall.” And it urged owners to “take extra care to make sure their car is in park and turned completely off before exiting” until their vehicles can be fixed.
It was not yet known whether Mr. Yelchin had been aware of that recall or the issue, for which the company has not yet come up with a remedy.
The affected vehicles, which also include 2012-14 Dodge Chargers and Chrysler 300s, use an unconventional lever to shift the automatic transmission. Instead of moving to a different position with each gear, the lever returns to a center position. The driver must look at the shifter to make sure the proper gear is selected.
“Drivers erroneously concluding that their vehicle transmission is in the park position may be struck by the vehicle and injured,” the automaker said in a May report to federal regulators about the problem.
In a statement on Monday, Fiat Chrysler said that it would be premature to speculate on the cause, but that officials “will be conducting a thorough investigation of this tragic incident.” The automaker also said it “extends its deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Mr. Yelchin.”
When the recall was announced earlier this year, the automaker said it was aware of 41 injuries related to the gear shift problem.
After the April recall, Fiat Chrysler said in a notice sent to owners that “a permanent remedy for this condition is currently under development” and that the automaker hoped to “finalize” it by the fourth quarter. It warned owners, in the meantime, to use the parking brake and to always check to make sure the vehicle was in the correct gear.
Since the recall was announced, the agency has received at least eight additional complaints from owners of Grand Cherokees who said their vehicles had rolled away and crashed, although no injuries were reported.
This month, an owner from Bowling Green, Ky., wrote to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to report an incident in which his wife got out of the Jeep to take their 3-year-old child out of the back seat “and the Jeep began to roll away.”
According to the owner’s account: “She ran and jumped into the driver’s seat to stop it and in the process her foot slipped from the brake to the gas pedal, driving the car through a house. Significant damage was done to the vehicle and the home, but no one was injured.”
Until repairs are made, Fiat Chrysler should tell owners not to drive the vehicles and should provide loaner vehicles, Clarence Ditlow, the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a consumer advocacy group, said on Monday.