By Eric Kelsey and Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – “Fast & Furious” actor Paul Walker died from multiple injuries in a weekend car crash, the Los Angeles County coroner said on Wednesday, as Universal Pictures suspended production of the seventh installment in its lucrative car racing film franchise.
Walker, 40, was a passenger in a fiery one-car crash on Saturday in Santa Clarita, California, about 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles, that also killed 38-year-old driver Roger Rodas.
The coroner said Walker’s death resulted from “traumatic and thermal injuries.” While the coroner did not elaborate, thermal injuries are heat-related and are commonly burns.
Universal, owned by Comcast Corp, said filming of the big-budget action movie has been put on hold for an unspecified amount of time as it decides how to continue production without Walker.
“At this time we feel it is our responsibility to shut down production on ‘Fast & Furious 7′ for a period of time so we can assess all options available to move forward with the franchise,” Universal Pictures said in a statement.
The film, which began production in September, is currently scheduled to be released in theaters on July 11, 2014.
Rodas, the owner of a local auto dealership and racing services company Always Evolving and who was behind the wheel of the Porsche Carrera GT at the time of the crash, died of multiple traumatic injuries, the coroner said.
The coroner ruled that both deaths were accidents and said that the injuries occurred when the car struck a fixed object.
Both Walker and Rodas died “within seconds” after impact, coroner spokesman Ed Winter told the Los Angeles Times. Winter was unavailable for comment.
Surveillance video shows the red Porsche crashing into a utility pole and bursting into flames about a minute later, according to footage shown on CNN.
‘FAST’ HELPED UNIVERSAL TURNAROUND
The Vin Diesel-led “Fast & Furious” movies, which have grossed more than $2 billion at the global box office, are one of two major franchises, along with the animated “Despicable Me” films, that helped turn around Universal Pictures in recent years.
Universal may be able to rework “Fast 7″ in time to keep to the July release date, a prime slot in the summer movie-going period when audiences flock to big-budget action films, said Matthew Harrigan, an industry analyst who follows Universal parent company Comcast for Wunderlich Securities.
If the studio decides to make major changes that prevent a July opening, the film could get pushed to the summer of 2015, Harrigan said.
“This is something that is an incredibly important franchise for Universal,” he said. “They just need to figure out how to rework it and how to address his death in an appropriate manner.”
The autopsies of Walker and Rodas were delayed as the coroner’s office needed dental records to identify the bodies. Toxicology reports on the bodies will be completed in six to eight weeks, the coroner’s office said.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said on Sunday that speed played a role in the crash but has ruled out the possibility that the pair were street racing. Its investigation into the crash is expected to be completed in the coming days.
Walker became a symbol of street-racing and car culture in his role as law enforcement officer Brian O’Conner in the “Fast & Furious” series.
The actor, who played supporting roles in 1998′s “Pleasantville” and 1999′s “Varsity Blues,” was in five of the six “Fast & Furious” films about illegal street racing, heists and organized crime.
Walker also starred in the Hurricane Katrina survival drama “Hours,” which will be released on December 13, and the crime drama “Brick Mansions,” which is in post-production and will be released next year.
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Paul Simao)