By Dave McNary
Prosecutors in Georgia have charged “Midnight Rider” filmmakers Randall Miller, Jody Savin and Jay Sedrish with involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing in the Feb. 20 death of 27-year old camera assistant Sarah Jones.
The 27-year-old Jones was killed on a train track on the first day of filming “Midnight Rider” and seven other crew members were injured.
Miller and Savin are the owners of Unclaimed Freight Productions Inc., which was producing “Midnight Rider,” and Sedrish was the executive producer on film. Miller is also the director of the Gregg Allman biopic, which he and Savin adapted from the singer’s autobiography “My Cross to Bear.”
The manslaughter charge carries a potential 10-year prison sentence under Georgia law. The misdemeanor trespass charge carries a potential one-year sentence.
The Wayne County District Attorney’s office, in an announcement Thursday, said the county’s grand jury had returned the indictment on Wednesday after Detective Joe Gardner presented the case.
Jones died just minutes into the first day of shooting. The crew was shooting a dream sequence in which a hospitalized Gregg Allman sees his dead brother Duane on a bridge. The location was a trestle over the Altamaha River with only a narrow service gangway for pedestrians.
On May 21, Jones’ family filed a wrongful death suit against Miller, Savin and Sedrish. Also named as defendants were Gregg Allman, distributor Open Road Films and the companies that own the railroad tracks and surrounding land.
The suit alleged that the defendants failed to obtain permission for the production to be on the railroad bridge where the fatal accident occurred, and that they concealed that fact and the danger of their shooting plans from the rest of the crew by leading them to think they would be working on the tracks with the permission of the railroad.
The suit was filed Chatham County, Ga., by Jones’ parents, Richard and Elizabeth Jones, and her estate. A “Midnight rider” makeup artist and a hairstylist on the film have also sued the same defendants over the injuries they suffered.
According to the Jones family’s suit, an employee of Rayonier, the company that owns the land around the tracks, told the defendants only two trains would pass on the tracks per day — even though the line gets 10 to 12 trains in a typical day.
After waiting for two trains to pass, the production went onto the bridge thinking that the tracks would probably be unused for the rest of the day. The production placed a hospital bed on the railroad tracks for the dream scene with star William Hurt and an oncoming train blew its whistle.
The crew had been warned that if they heard a train whistle, they would have a minute to clear. But the train arrived in less than a minute, and the crew did not have time to clear people from the bridge or the bed from the tracks — and when the train struck the bed, its metal parts were turned into flying shrapnel.
Jones was hit by a piece of metal and knocked into the path of the train. She was struck by the train and killed.
The fatality has inspired the Hollywood community to seek increased awareness of safety issues. Earlier this week, a two-minute “We Are Sarah Jones” public service video was released with a wide variety of actors and below-the-line crew members holding placards with slogans such as “We are Sarah,” “Safety for Sarah,” “Slates for Sarah” and “Never forget, Never Again.”