‘Midnight Rider’ Filmmakers Issue Statement: ‘This Was Not a Crime’

Midnight Rider Filmmakers Manslaughter

Through their attorneys, “Midnight Rider” filmmakers Randall Miller and Jody Savin issued a public statement in which they call the Feb. 20 train accident that killed Sarah Jones a “horrible tragedy and horrific accident” but say that they did not commit a crime.

“In the weeks and months that follow when the true facts of the events are revealed, people will know that this was not a crime: we never had criminal intent; we would never knowingly or intentionally put anybody’s safety at risk,” they wrote.

Miller, the director, and his wife Savin, a producer, pleaded not guilty after being indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal tresspassing. Executive producer Jay Sedrish also was charged and turned himself into Wayne County, Ga. authorities on Thursday. He was booked and released on bail.

Miller and Savin are also pushing back against any notion that they were careless.

“We have been in the television and movie business since 1990,” they wrote.  “We have produced and directed more than 10 features and television movies. We have always emphasized the safety of the crew. In all those years we have never had a significant injury or accident of any kind. We believe in protecting our crew – the crew who work so hard on our movies. We consider them to be family. Many of them have worked with us on several of our films. All of our movies have been union films. No crew member has ever left one of our movies over a concern about safety. As members of the WGA, the DGA, SAG, the Television Academy and the IATSE, we believe in living up to the aspirations of those organizations.”

The case has centered on whether the filmmakers had permission to shoot on the trestle, which is owned by CSX. In the aftermath of the accident, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office said that CSX claimed that they did not have permission to shoot there, even though they did have permission to shoot on the property surrounding it. On Tuesday, Ed Garland, one of Miller and Savin’s attorneys, told Variety that “in their role they had no knowledge that there was any issue about their ability to be on the railroad tracks to shoot the scene.”

The letter from Miller and Savin, released through their attorneys, is below:

Today we entered a Not-Guilty plea to the indictment that was handed down in Wayne County, Georgia.
We have remained silent out of respect for the family of Sarah Jones, their loved ones and all of the crew who were injured on that very sad day February 20th, 2014.

This devastating loss of Sarah, a young crew member who was just starting out with us, will haunt us forever.  Our hearts are broken, our spirits are broken.   We have young children and can only imagine with immense sadness the heartbreak of losing a child.  We are praying for Sarah’s family.

We have been in the television and movie business since 1990. We have produced and directed more than 10 features and television movies.  We have always emphasized the safety of the crew. In all those years we have never had a significant injury or accident of any kind.   We believe in protecting our crew – the crew who work so hard on our movies. We consider them to be family. Many of them have worked with us on several of our films.  All of our movies have been union films. No crew member has ever left one of our movies over a concern about safety.   As members of the WGA, the DGA, SAG, the Television Academy and the IATSE, we believe in living up to the aspirations of those organizations.

In the weeks and months that follow when the true facts of the events are revealed, people will know that this was not a crime: we never had criminal intent; we would never knowingly or intentionally put anybody’s safety at risk. This was a horrible tragedy and a horrific accident.
We will dedicate ourselves in the future to honoring Sarah’s memory by promoting the safest work environment for everybody in the film industry.
Humbly,
Randy Miller and Jody Savin

 

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  1. dclognag says:

    Here is an interactive timeline of events that we at “I Refuse to Work On Midnight Rider! For Sarah!” Facebook page (over 12,000 members strong) have been working on for several months. It’s complete with articles about the incident, interviews with crew members, Sarah’s parents, video clips and testimonials from a crew member who worked with the accused on another film.

    The evidence against these three is absolutely overwhelming. One of the officers who investigated uttered the words “Involuntary Manslaughter.”

    Be sure to hover the mouse over the pictures and then click on the pictures to read the full articles on the timeline.

    http://www.dipity.com/RefuseForSarah/Sarah-Jones/#flip

  2. Crew Member says:

    Well known for their media spin talents, these are the attorney’s Randall Miller and Jody Savin hired to defend them against the involuntary manslaughter charges in the death of Sarah Jones.

    Ed Garland and Don Samuel are partners at Garland, Samuel & Loeb in Atlanta.

    From Super Lawyers:

    http://www.superlawyers.com/georgia/article/The-Master-Storyteller/f5046ae8-73a6-4f97-a9ef-4c2b76dbc715.html

    “… (Ed) Garland is also a master storyteller. When it matters—when someone’s life is at stake—he turns up the drama. You feel yourself leaning forward to hear what he has to say.

    Consider his press conference in the Ray Lewis case. In 2000, Lewis, in Atlanta attending a Super Bowl party, was on the scene when two men were stabbed to death in a fight. The case drew enormous media attention, and Garland immediately seized the opportunity. He started the press conference sounding like an old-time Southern preacher, referencing the man wrongly accused in the 1996 Olympic Park bombing. “I can hear the whistle blowing on the prosecution train,” he said. “And the first person on it is Richard Jewell. And the second seat they are reserving for Ray Lewis.”

    “That was a lot of fun,” says Garland, chuckling. “We kept up a relentless counterattack. We were on the edge of what is proper. But sometimes a lawyer has to be willing to walk up to the edge to fight for his client.” The prosecution ultimately dismissed murder charges during the trial, and Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice.

    Like his father, Garland is a fierce advocate for his clients, whatever the accusation. “My attitude is, we don’t pick cases,” he says. “People come in here like they come to a doctor. They come, they have a problem, we try to help them. Just like a doctor wouldn’t say, ‘I don’t want to treat this patient because their disease is bad’ … my job is to make [the prosecution] prove the case.”

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  4. Andy says:

    The charges won’t stick but I hope they throw the book at them. These sleezeballs need to be made an example of. Someone needs to be held accountable.

    As others have said, the politics of a film set are very unfavorable to new comers, and if you’re labeled “difficult to work with,” you’re out of a job, and sometimes even a career.

    Everything that goes on in the entertainment industry is done so behind closed doors, it’s very secretive to protect the element of surprise and the project. But because industry professionals are taught this “code of silence” early on in their careers, it makes them turn a blind eye when things go wrong on set.

    Unfortunately for there to be real change, something catastrophic like this usually takes place. Hopefully this will lead to a dialogue about increased safety standards while onset for EVERYONE.

  5. meg conway says:

    The more I read about this incident the more I want to warn the film industry of safety hazards inherent in the state of North Carolina.
    Please don’t even think of visiting for potential filming until you read the details of an archaic discriminatory common law that essentially eliminates almost all corporate liability when a person or persons are injured-therefore for some corporations without conscience safety is secondary to profits.
    The safety hazard that was created that resulted in my permanent disability continued to be created afterwards-the corporation learned nothing.
    Sarah’s death has many people speaking out-and I can read from the comments that no one here will allow a safety hazard like that to go unspoken of, or at least they won’t work for the people who have no regard for safety.
    Please read here at this safe change.org link
    http://chn.ge/1fhM4si

    • Smith says:

      The “masses” of Hollywood, meaning, below the line crew, hopefully will stand up. The threat of losing a job or not having a career is how the elites of Hollywood keep everyone scared straight. However, that won’t stop until they start standing up for themselves. I know it’s hard and probably down right scary, but how many more people will die before someone says something? I hope these three producers are never trusted again, I will not support any of their films. I also hope their daily lives are made miserable considering that they sacrificed Sarah’s.

  6. Steve McApe says:

    Sure it wasn’t a crime, it was MULTIPLE crimes, including reckless endangerment, trespassing, involuntary manslaughter, etc…

  7. David says:

    I hope they receive the maximum sentence, will reinforce the idea that cast and crew safety is of the utmost importance and especially for the younger, more vulnerable crew who would never speak up against a producer or director.

  8. Bradley "Wiszard" Grasser says:

    They can say it was not their intention for anyone to get hurt . That is what involuntary manslaughter is . They thought oh this will be ok we’ll only be on the tracks for a couple of minutes , what could happen ?
    Now we all know .

  9. John DeFazio says:

    That letter is hilarious. hope these “people” rot in prison.

    • J.E. Vizzusi says:

      Huge chance here Manslaughter will be dropped and they all walk with Probation. Importantly Judge can tell them to quit the biz as a stipulation. In Orlando in the 90s a Producer was ordered to never make Movies again.

  10. TWNAC says:

    ‘This Was Not a Crime’

  11. Tom says:

    I’m no lawyer, but it seems that a charge of INVOLUNTARY manslaughter would not require proof of criminal INTENT. However, the precipitating criminal action was trespassing, and it would seem that a review of the standard operating procedure within the film industry would be quite relevant, since the accused, by their own account, have been practitioners in the industry for 20 years.

    Some information needed:

    1. Testimony of the lookouts who have not been publicly identified, but who were allegedly posted to alert the film crew. Who were they, where were they, what knowledge of railroad practice did they have, and how were they to communicate their warnings? Did they communicate any warnings? Also, if the crew had been assured that no trains were coming, why did the Production Company deem it necessary to post them in the first place?

    2. ALL correspondence between the Production Company and CSX Transportation Co. needs to be entered into evidence. Also need testimony re. all verbal communication between them and CSX.

    3. Rayonier Corp. Same as no. 2, specifically detailing the extent and limitations of the agreement to film on their property.

    4. What was the role of the Locations staff? What were the communications between them and the Producers and Director?

    5. What was the source of their obviously incorrect information about train frequency? If not CSX Transportation, then why not?

    6. Who came up with the idea that the crew would have 60 seconds’ warning, and how did they propose to clear the area safely in that time? Having recently retired from a career in railroad service, I can assure everybody that NOBODY in the railroad industry would operate with such dangerously tight timing.

    7. Why were no representatives of CSX Transportation Co. present?

    8. Why was there no safety meeting, which I understand to be S. O. P. for a production such as this?

    Even if the Producers and Director mistakenly believed their permission extended to the tracks and the bridge, it seems that their gross disregard for the industry’s established safety standards, as well as ordinary COMMON SENSE, makes them culpable. I don’t believe they intended to kill anybody. I believe they simply thought it was OK to use the railroad as their private little playground.

    So I don’t think the charges are excessive. In fact, a strong case can be made for much more serious charges, and harsher penalties.

    • J.E. Vizzusi says:

      All the questions you posted is just legal wrangling. The bottom line the Prosecution must present a case of proving without a shadow of a doubt they did not have permission to shoot on the railroad tracks. Once that is established which leads to to the Trespassing charge then the State can argue for a degree of Manslaughter and try to prove criminal intent although in my opinion it appears to be a overcharge, as I believe this was Gross Negligence causing great bodily harm resulting in Death and Injury. During trial, always the chance of either side making a deal.
      JUSTICE FOR SARAH

      • Crew Member says:

        J.E. I totally disagree. Miller, Savin and Sedrish, who organized, led and directed the crew onto the trestle have to prove they had a right to be there. There is no doubt that they were on the property, they were caught there, they thus have to prove they had a legal right to be there. While an individual is to be presumed innocent by the law and government until found guilty in a court of law you don’t have a right to trespass onto property where it is obvious you are not allowed without premission. Property owners don’t have to prove they didn’t give permission, if you are caught on someones property in an obvious illegal manner, you have to instead prove you have a right to be there.

        Further, involuntary manslaughter does not require proving intent, only the criminal trespassing requires proving intent. From the GA criminal code: 16-5-3: ” (a) A person commits the offense of involuntary manslaughter in the commission of an unlawful act when he causes the death of another human being without any intention to do so by the commission of an unlawful act other than a felony.”
        Technically they have not been charged at all for recklessly endangering the rest of the crew, causing the other injuries, nor any homicide criminal charge that requires proving negligence.

        Based on the premeditation, the permit was denied well before the tragic day, and the very dangerous nature of going out onto a railroad trestle on a CSX mainline with a 70mph speed limit, some of us feel the charge should have been murder with implied malice, similar to negligent homicide in other states.
        But we have not seen all of the evidence and must trust the DA and Grand Jury chose the correct charge at this point.

        From the GA criminal code muder statute: “Malice shall be implied where no considerable provocation appears and where all the circumstances of the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.”

        Legal definition (an abandoned and mailgnant heart) Reckless indifference to an unjustifiably high risk to human life

  12. Eric Hulett says:

    I can assume the crew did not make the decision to trespass and place a hospital bed on an active track. Just saying “someone” made that call.

  13. John says:

    Yea, that’s what 3/4 of the inmates say. Hope you suffer in jail. You deserve it

  14. Jenny says:

    What a stupid way to die. She died because she didn’t speak up. She didn’t object. Period. If my boss told me to do something dangerous I’d say no. Personal responsibility guys. No one wants to hear it but it matters.

    • Steve McApe says:

      Excuse me Jenny but if you have ever worked in the film industry as a low level technical support worker then you would know that if you question the chain of command then you are ‘not asked back’, so while many of us ‘grumble’ or even bring concerns to our shop steward or PM, if you make too much fuss you are basically told to shut up if you want to keep your job. She was not a department head and she was new to the biz, which means that she had to toe the line.

      Further, I understand that this was the first day of production so in all likelihood the producers threw this at the crew while everyone was getting their ‘sea legs’ just figuring out the production team – first day is always a clusterfxxk.

      One of the most seasoned team members was William Hurt, who would have known in an instant that something was up as there would have been no railway staff on hand. I have yet to hear anything from his camp about what he thought was going on because he would have known that it was a cowboy ‘set-up’ if there were not CSX railway staff with radio standing around as he has been in this industry long enough to know better. Hurt could have stopped the scene by refusing to walk on the bridge, so why didn’t he?

      Not to single out Mr. Hurt in this horrible tragedy but if you are looking for people that were there that day to ‘blame’, start with the seasoned vets, not the ‘new girl’. She lost her life, I understand, because she tried to move the bed off the tracks as she feared it would cause a derailment, otherwise she may have only been gravely injured, like the make-up artist.

      These producers do not have a leg to stand on and their posturing and claims of innocence smack of the smug disregard for ‘whatever we can get away with’ that rules this brand of cowboy film making.

      A stiff sentence will send a strong message that if you don’t have the money or access to get the shot you want safely then you have no right to run roughshod over safety rules that are there to prevent this sort of thing from happening.

    • J.E. Vizzusi says:

      I remember my first jobs on legit sets. I was frightened out of my shoes. I did not want to screw up.. and as a PA, kept my mouth shut and did my job. With local hire the way is with low and micro budgeted Films, you are so happy to just get the work, the credits and money become the highest priority and certainly not ratting out your Producers for any wrongdoings.

    • Ric Reitz says:

      Actually, Jenny, she did speak up, along with many others. Could they have done more in hindsight? Certainly. However, they were convincingly told everything is okay. While the indicted three claim there was no criminal intent, involuntary manslaughter and criminal negligence is very provable. And, you are right. It is a stupid way to die.

  15. Bob Johnson says:

    I am seriously going to be happy when these 2 (plus one) go down for this. The sad thing is since the UPM has not been charged, I can only assume she has been granted immunity testify. Too bad because she should be in cuffs also. Well at least she will never be able to work in the industry again, so that’s some comfort.

  16. Wow. I believe in “innocent until proven guilty,” but that video embedded in the comments below entitled, “Randall Miller Has a History Of Filming in Locations Without Permission” is extremely telling. And whoever is claiming they can’t film on subways in NYC, is clueless, or lying. They probably never tried getting permission, as it can be expensive: http://web.mta.info/nyct/sub_filming – and if you film on the subway in NYC, or any trains, there’s usually a safety class that the entire crew goes through. I think if this video gets submitted into evidence, they are really screwed.

    Please let this be a lesson to all productions, whether large or small, don’t cut corners on safety! I’ve had insane exchanges with producers like this, who try to cut corners, just to save a few bucks, and it simply is not worth. It’s best to do everything by the book, and get all the proper permission.

    On my first job I watched several people almost get killed—and had to even rush one injured and bleeding member of our crew to the hospital. So I learned early on just how important safety, and doing everything we can by the book, is.

    On the other hand, I’ve even dealt with many crew members (not just producers) who seem to enjoy taking unnecessary risks, and I’m the “asshole” for always trying to do things by the book. But y’know what? I’d rather be an “asshole” trying to do things by the book so that people don’t get hurt, or sued, than be an irresponsible person, whose negligence could lead to someone’s death!

    From everything I’ve read and now this video, it does seem what these producers did (or didn’t do), was criminal. I’ve noticed this trend lately on much lower budget productions not even using a location manager. And that’s another massive mistake to make. Those of us with proper training would never allow something like this to happen, even if we look like jerks for simply trying to abide by the law and to do things safely.

    Yes, sometimes getting proper permission and doing things by the book can take time, and cost more money, but isn’t it worth it to prevent tragedies like this? I think so. Absolutely! I would love to be privy to email exchanges regarding this train track shot. I could just imagine my own personal outrage if a producer was trying to get such a shot without permission—it’s the type of thing I’ve written extensive emails to producers about, when they try to bend or break rules. I’ve even left productions when I’ve felt they’re not doing things up to code. Safety should always come first! It’s shocking to me how irresponsible and careless some “professionals” can be and it sickens me that it takes something like this to awaken the industry, somewhat.

    Please don’t let Sarah’s death be in vain! Please take the extra time and money to make sure you’re doing everything by the book! And don’t get upset or annoyed with people who merely try to do things to that end—it’s for everyone’s safety!

  17. Wow. I believe in innocent until proven guilty, but that video embedded below “Randall Miller Has a History Of Filming in Locations Without Permission” is extremely telling. And whoever is claiming they can’t film on subways in NYC, is clueless, or lying. They probably never tried getting permission, as it can be expensive: http://web.mta.info/nyct/sub_filming – and if you film on the subway in NYC, or any trains, there’s usually a safety class that the entire crew goes through. I think if this video gets submitted into evidence, they are really screwed. Please let this be a lesson to all productions, whether large or small, don’t cut corners on safety! I’ve had insane exchanges with some types of producers like this, who try to cut corners, to save a few bucks, and it simply is not worth. Best to do everything by the book, and get all the proper permission. On my first job I watched several people almost get killed—and had to even rush one bleeding member to the hospital. So I learned early on just how important doing everything we can by the book and for safety, is. On the other hand, I’ve dealt with many crews (not just producers) who seem to enjoy taking unnecessary risks, and I’m the asshole for always trying to do things by the book. But y’know what? I’d rather be an “asshole” trying to do things by the book so that people don’t get hurt, or sued, than be an irresponsible person, whose negligence could lead to someone’s death! From everything I’ve read and now this video, it does seem what these producers did, was criminal. I’ve noticed this trend lately on much lower productions not even using a location manager. And that’s another massive mistake to make. Those of us with proper training would never allow something like this to happen, even if we look like the jerks for simply trying to abide the laws.

    Yes, sometimes getting proper permission and doing things by the book can take time, and cost more money, but isn’t it worth it to prevent tragedies like this? I think so. Absolutely! I would love to be privy to email exchanges regarding this train track shot. I could just imagine my own personal outrage if a producer was trying to get such a shot without permission—it’s the type of thing I’ve written extensive emails to producers about, when they try to bend or break rules. I’ve even left productions when I’ve felt they’re not doing things up to code. In short, safety should always come first! It’s shocking to me how irresponsible and careless some “professionals” can be and it sickens me that it takes something like this to awaken the industry, somewhat. Please don’t let Sarah’s death be in vain! Everyone please take the extra time and money to make sure you’re doing everything by the book! And don’t get upset or annoyed with people who merely try to do things to that end, it’s for everyone’s safety!

    • J.E. Vizzusi says:

      Their reckless past unfortunately cannot be used against them during a trial for 2nd Degree Manslaughter in a Georgia courtroom. However witnesses can be called as to help the jury understand the Safety Rules of Production.

      • Crew Member says:

        J.E. There is no such charge of “2nd Degree Manslaughter” in the Georgia Criminal Code. It is Involuntary Manslaughter.

      • Crew Member says:

        It likely will be used against them in the wrongful death lawsuit. Just one more reason this lawsuit will be important to reveal a lot of the recklessness that led up to the tragedy, that may not be relevant to the criminal charges.

  18. J.E. Vizzusi says:

    And Humbly I say this; now we have mug shots to go with this crime against Sarah, the crew and fhe entire Motion Picture Industry. But the Georgia DA mucked it up. The charges are too much. This was gross negligence causing death and injury but not manslaughter because there was no criminal intent. They probably would have plead or been offered a deal of no contest for negligence getting time served, years of probation and heavy fines. But now they could all walk!
    Hopefully civil suits will empty the pockets of these slockmasters and they are ordered to only Produce PSA’s on Production Safety forevermore.
    JEV

    • Crew Member says:

      J.E. Please read the GA criminal code, the charges are the lowest possible homicide/manslaughter charges and do not require proving intent for anything except the trespassing charge.

      From the GA criminal code: 16-5-3: ” (a) A person commits the offense of involuntary manslaughter in the commission of an unlawful act when he causes the death of another human being without any intention to do so by the commission of an unlawful act other than a felony.”

  19. Twilight Zone. John Landis.
    Never forget.
    Simple.

    • talonstrike says:

      Fortunately these people don’t have the horsepower that “Killer” Landis had behind him. Even the subject of the movie has repudiated them. They’ll never work in this town again! :-)

  20. Shari says:

    Sorry, but what do you expect from a@@hat@. Unless someone lied to them about not having permission to film and that there was someone there monitoring the train traffic, they are liable. Anyone who has been on a film set knows that folks who complain don’t get rehired, so they just go along. THESE A@@HAT@ knew that and abused that due to their own hubris. That they could not be bothered to put two PA’s with Walkie Talkie’s down the line shows just how idiotic they are. I hope they never work again.

  21. realist says:

    Ignorance is no defense.

  22. dclognag says:

    There is a youtube video called “Randall Miller Has a History Of Filming in Locations Without Permission” copy and paste that in the youtube search if the link below doesn’t work.

    Listen as he and others laugh about not getting permission to shoot in NY subway. How exactly is that being safe for the crew. There is a reason why permits are required. One of which is SAFETY.

    Goto Jody Savin’s IMDB page under personal Quotes. She says (and it’s been verified that she said this by a reporter at Deadline.com) “We make movies by our own rules.” That means they sneak around and they DO NOT follow rules which in turn means, they are NOT SAFE to work with or for.

  23. talonstrike says:

    How do you know when a producer is lying??? Their lips are moving. I bet we could get 100 people from their former crews to testify to the casual disregard these people have for the people they work with. Yes, SS, if even 10% is true, they are guilty.

  24. lil ma says:

    Witch hunt.

    • Steve McApe says:

      If witch hunt implies that us crew members that have been put in harms way for years by slimy producers who are risking our lives for their own aggrandizement and profit are speaking to the reckless disregard and moral vacancy of this brand of sociopathy, then yes, it is a with hunt. In this case witches are defined as morally repugnant humans that wear the name tag ‘producer’.

    • J.E. Vizzusi says:

      Really now, what act of ill will would lead you to believe this?

    • Shari says:

      Uhm. NO – not a witch hunt. Just common sense.

  25. SS says:

    If even a fraction of what has been reported is true, then they are guilty. It sounds to me like they are saying, “We didn’t mean to make the decisions that led to a person’s death, therefore we are incapable of doing wrong.” It takes more than criminal intent to make you a criminal. And to be perfectly honest, I don’t care what happened on previous movie sets. I care about what happened on this one, the one where someone died.

    • Smoke & Mirrors says:

      “Humbly”? How about “Recklessly” !

      • J.E. Vizzusi says:

        Public Statements are terribly bad ideas before any trial begins. First they said they adbided by all the rules. Then they said they were sorry and now they admit although no criminal intent that they are guilty of something. Anything they say can be used against them although their reckless past most likely cannot. We all know they attempted to cheat the shot with disregard to human safety.

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