Gregg Allman, Open Road Dropped from ‘Midnight Rider’ Lawsuit

Gregg Allman Sues Midnight Rider Producers

The family of Sarah Jones — the camera assistant killed during the filming of “Midnight Rider” — has dismissed Gregg Allman, executive producer Michael Lehman and Open Road Films as defendants in its wrongful death suit.

The family filed the suit in May against the film’s director, producers, some of its crew, Allman, distributor Open Road Films and the companies that own the railroad tracks and surrounding land. The suit, which also includes charges of negligence, asks for unspecified damages for Jones’ death and pain and suffering, plus punitive damages.

Jones died on Feb. 20, just minutes into the first day of shooting of the Allman biopic. The crew was shooting a dream sequence in which a hospitalized Allman sees his dead brother Duane on a bridge when a train struck the bed, turning its metal parts into shrapnel. Several crew members suffered injuries as they were hit by flying metal or the train itself. Jones was hit by a piece of metal and knocked into the path of the train.

A March 9 trial date has been set in Georgia for four defendants facing criminal charges related to the death of Jones and other injuries on the set. Director Randall Miller, producer Jody Savin, executive producer Jay Sedrish and first assistant director Hillary Schwartz face charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass.

Each has pleaded not guilty.

Jones family attorney Jeff Harris of Harris Penn Lowry LLP announced Thursday that Allman, Lehman and Open Road Films will be dismissed from the civil litigation.

“This firm was hired by Richard and Elizabeth Jones to find out exactly what happened to their daughter, what decisions were made that led to that fateful day and to determine, and ultimately hold accountable, those who were involved,” said Harris.

“After reviewing the many thousands of pages of documents, and other information we have obtained through the legal discovery process, it is clear that Mr. Allman and Mr. Lehman had no involvement in any of the decisions that resulted in Sarah’s death,” Harris said. “Our investigation has also shown that, in this case, Open Road Films was not directly involved in the poor decisions that led to this horrific event and the tragic loss of Sarah’s life. As a result, we are dismissing all claims against the three parties.”

Sarah Jones’ father Richard Jones also issued a statement on behalf of the family.

“The legal process is working and questions are being answered,” said Richard Jones on behalf of the Jones family. “During a very difficult and trying time for our family, Gregg Allman and Michael Lehman demonstrated their genuine sorrow over the loss of our daughter and their willingness to work with us in the future to ensure safe film sets for all. For that, we are grateful.”

Harris also issued a statement Thursday discussing the reasoning for including multiple defendants in the civil lawsuit.

“In the days and months following the accident, the Jones family was unable to access most of the evidence in this case because of legal protections in place as a part of the pending federal and state investigations into occupational safety, railway safety and potential criminal and civil liability,” Harris said. “At the same time, various parties involved made numerous conflicting and contradictory public statements about the sequence of events leading to the tragedy. The comprehensive civil lawsuit filed by the Jones family, naming multiple defendants, allowed access to extensive and voluminous evidence. We very much appreciate Mr. Allman’s and Mr. Lehman’s full cooperation during discovery and are pleased we’ve reached a place of closure with them as well as Open Road. The investigation into the actions and involvement of the remaining defendants is ongoing.”

 

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  1. John Shea says:

    What do we need courts for when we’ve got the Variety comments section?

    • Anonymous says:

      Kind of a funny comment coming from someone who keeps arguing that two of the accused parties “must be innocent” while we still have not seen a lot of evidence. The NTSB and FRA are still investigating and the Wayne County DA can not comment, or release evidence, on a pending case. Neither CSX or Rayonier filed “motions to dismiss” because they both know they were too involved in the events leading up to the tragedy to warrant such.

      • John Shea says:

        I never argued that anybody ‘must be innocent’. And I don’t ‘keep arguing’ anything. My comments were few, brief, to the point, and under my real name.

  2. ezekiel says:

    they gotta put someone in jail for that death.
    the director sounds like some real piece of work…

  3. J.E. Vizzusi says:

    This is disturbing. Open Road although not actually on the set, are in theory responsible because they are the Company making the Film. We probably will never know whom specifically made the decision to steal the shot unless there is a admission of guilt. Open Road should be on record for their partnership with this project. Hopefully the Industry itself does not have a short memory. RIP Sarah Jones

  4. stinky pete says:

    We all know how cool production crews think they are – most of this is laughable except that somone died due to the idiocy of the producers, director and perhaps 1st photog.

    • AVACM says:

      Mike Ozier, the DP, was Sarah’s department head and had done many films with Miller and Savin. Was he deceived along with the others, even with his long relationship with them?

  5. John Shea says:

    How much longer will the land owners and railroad be accused?

    • Tom says:

      From what I’ve been able to determine, there is still a question of permission and faulty information provided to the film crew. I understand the railroad company has documented their refusal to give permission for the shoot. However, there may still be some question about the role of the paper mill operator. The defendants have said that “someone” told them that only two trains would pass that location, and they did not trespass until two trains had passed. If this is true, then this probably was not a railroad representative, but it could possibly have been someone from the paper mill. Such a statement from the paper mill personnel might have been true for the paper mill trackage, but not for the bridge trackage, which could have led to a fatal misunderstanding.

      I doubt that the railroad will be held liable; but the role of the paper mill personnel may be a bit more problematic. I would not go so far as to say they caused the accident, but a judge might conclude that they contributed.

      • John Shea says:

        Interesting, Tom. Particularly since the paper mill presumably did not own the bridge, so the accident did not happen on its property, though its property gave access to the bridge.

    • anonymous says:

      Unlike the defendants dismissed, the railroad and property owner were directly involved in the events that led to the tragedy. They are much less likely to be dismissed based on the evidence we know so far.

      • Anon says:

        Tom,
        From your questions below:

        “5. Where do you get the idea that the two previous train crews saw anything but a film crew working on non-railroad land adjacent to the tracks, and why should they need to intrude this information on legitimate railroad communications?”

        CSX had stated that two trains saw the crew, it is their job to note potential safety hazards and report them.

        “6. You say “one of the previous trains still in view.” That’s something I never heard before in any of the news items. Where did you get that information? As far as I can tell, you made it up.”

        Take a look at the recent photos published along with the ABC 20/20 piece. One clearly shows a train had just passed and the crew already established with gear very clearly on CSX property dangerously close to thr tracks and trestle. Even if they had not moved to the trestle, this was already reason enough to slow the next train and to send authorities to address the trespassing.

      • Tom says:

        Anon:

        This is getting tedious.

        1. The railroad is not Randall Miller’s babysitter, and had already told Miller “NO” at least once, and possibly more than once. That should be enough for an adult.

        2. Yes, CSX has a police force; not an army. The train traveled Memphis – Jesup – Savannah, over 600 miles. If you wanted to stay awake all night dreaming up possible problems on that route, you could probably imagine dozens — hundreds — maybe thousands of things that could come up. at dozens or hundreds or thousands of locations. That’s the kind of thing a screenwriter does. Railroaders are concerned with situations as they are. They don’t have the luxury of making up problems just because they can. CSX did not have an army to watch over the Altamaha, plus every other bridge and conceivable problem area on this and every other route in its large system, for this and the other hundreds of trains the Company ran that day.

        3. The train crews had trains to operate and could not be concerned with nonrailroad activities on Rayonier property adjacent to the railroad track.

        4. Denied requests for access are irrelevant to the duties and activities of a working train crew. They only become relevant if they are not denied. Why notify the train crew of something the railroad company has prohibited from happening? Why complicate the train crew’s job by notifying them that permission to film had been denied, so they should not see a film crew at a location where they should not see a film crew at any other time?

        5. Where do you get the idea that the two previous train crews saw anything but a film crew working on non-railroad land adjacent to the tracks, and why should they need to intrude this information on legitimate railroad communications? The information was indeed totally irrelevant to railroad operations until Mr. Miller’s gross trespass made it relevant, and that’s not the railroad’s fault.

        6. You say “one of the previous trains still in view.” That’s something I never heard before in any of the news items. Where did you get that information? As far as I can tell, you made it up.

        Please go back to writing your screenplay. You’ve got the imagination for it.

        Tom

      • Anon says:

        Tom,
        CSX has clearly said that Film Allman asked twice and was denied twice. CSX is chartered to have their own police force, sworn officers of the law who have a duty not just to CSX, but to protect the public. So yes CSX is thus obligated to notify them of suspicious activity and react accordingly. Multiple requests to use a trestle, that any film proffessional who works with railroads knows will always be denied, then two CSX trains seeing the film crew right next to the trestle. Photos that indicate the crew was trespassing dangerously close to the trestle and tracks with one of the previous trains still in view. I know freight schedules are very important to CSX, maybe it is time they put the same value on human life with their policies, procedure and budgeting for police and investigative resources.

      • John Shea says:

        Variety commenters insisted only a few days ago that Gregg Allman and Open Road were also guilty and would lose in court. So much for legal opinions from anonymous commenters!

      • Tom says:

        Anon., you also say CSX was “repeatedly made aware over a period of a month that Randall Miller was a trespass threat….” I don’t know where you got that information. I understand CSX was asked for permission, and denied the request. If they asked again, I am not aware of it. If another request was made, it is irrelevant unless CSX’s answer was different. Just when did this refused request graduate from a refused request to a “trespass threat”? I don’t recall hearing of any such threat from anybody but you.

        CSX said NO. Once they did that, thy did not have any obligation to hire a babysitter to watch Randall Miller for signs of misbehavior.

      • Tom says:

        Sorry, Anon., but I can’t buy this argument at all. The Production Company asked for permission to shoot, and CSX denied permission. CSX had the right to presume they were dealing with adults who knew the meaning of “no”. CSX had no logical reason to presume that their refusal meant that Randall Miller and his associates would go ahead and do exactly what CSX had refused to permit.

        Maybe you think CSX personnel should be psychic. You insist that their inability to predict irresponsible behavior on the part of the film crew indicates that they couldn’t “opperate (sic) their railroad company in public areas safely.” I submit that their refusal to allow filming on their property indicates the exact opposite. Railroaders know the power and potential dangers inherent in operation of the large machinery used in their industry, and they knew better than to give permission for a potentially very dangerous shoot.

        Do you seriously suggest that the trains must slow down every time the crew sees someone near the tracks? The railroad had customers in Savannah, waiting for the timely arrival of containerized goods from Memphis. Very likely, that freight was time-sensitive. At least some of those containers were likely destined to be loaded on ships at Savannah for export. The railroad was going about its business, trying to serve its customers. The interests of a film crew were probably not ever on CSX’s radar because that film crew had been given its answer, and that answer was “No”.

        You are suggesting that the railroad should shut down because someone was doing something unusual beside the tracks. Do you stop your car every time you see someone doing something unusual or unexpected or potentially dangerous beside the road? If you do, how do you get anywhere?

      • Anonymous says:

        Tom,
        Railroad property typically extends 25 feet minimum from the centerline of tracks, so the crew may have already been trespassing when the first two trains passed. If large film crew, gear and trucks, after a month of requests to use a specific scenic location, was congregating on a gated industrial property in a remote location and CSX could not figure this out what was happening then maybe that is an admission they can not opperate their railroad company in public areas safely.

        Yes you are correct that the railroads have long had a policy of “get the hell out of our way or we will run you over”. Yes, they legally win in court against most trespassers and do not have to slow their trains for most known hazzards so that yes they can increase speed and profits.

        But this case was unique, they were repeatedly made aware over a period of a month that Randall Miller was a trespass threat onto a highly dangerous trestle, and Miller deceived crew into thinking he had legal permission to be there. Thus legally, since it was reasonable for some of the film crew to think they had permission to be there, as they were deceived, they were not legally trespassing, per the GA criminal code. So the CSX train hit innocent people. Thus their typical policy of not slowing down for known risks will not work in court for them this time.

        CSX had enough warnings to slow the train. They chose to worry about their schedule and money instead of the safety and lives of the film crew.

        Miller, Savin, Sedrish and Schwartz were criminally responsible for the tragedy, but CSX’s failure to act to obvious warning signs failed to stop the tragedy from happening.

      • Tom says:

        Anonymous, I think you’re putting too much responsibility on CSX. In actual fact, railroaders see people beside the tracks every time they run their trains. Sometimes they’re in unauthorized locations, and sometimes not. It is not unusual at all for a railroader to see someone filming his train from a trackside location. If the film crew was BESIDE the tracks, on property not owned by the railroad, when the last train passed, the crew of that train had no reason or responsibility to notify the dispatcher and initiate a traffic slowdown on the busiest rail freight corridor on the East coast. If the train crew had that responsibility, then we would have daily — maybe hourly — rail traffic slowdowns at innumerable locations across the country every day. The business of the railroad is to run its trains so that goods can be transported for the benefit of the economy, and the ultimate benefit of the society. It is the business of the rest of us to be sure we’re not in the train’s path.

        By the way, it is a federal offense to interfere with interstate commerce. That train came from Memphis, Tennessee. I’d say that was “interstate”; and I’d say the film crew interfered..

      • Anonymous says:

        John Shea, You can disagree if you like but there is no one disputing that both CSX and Rayonier were directly involved in the tragedy. The civil case will allow the Jones’ family to learn the facts. CSX had already admitted Unclaimed Freight Productions requested at least twice to use a mainline trestle that anyone in the film business who works with railroads would know was impossible to get permission for. A big red flag. Then two of their conductors see a film crew next to the trestle on a very isolated, gated, industrial location. After all of these warnings CSX chose to worry more about their schedule than the lives of the film crew and drove their train thru the set at 58 mph. They should have slowed the train even if the crew was just using the crossing next to the trestle legally and were close to the tracks. Lets hear the facts before we dismiss CSX, it was in fact their train that hit the crew.

      • John Shea says:

        I disagree, but we’ll see.

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