The crew of Gregg Allman biopic “Midnight Rider” was working on train tracks without permission from the railroad in Wayne County, Ga. when a train crashed into the production team, killing one and injuring seven others, an investigator said Friday.
The tracks, owned by CSX Railroad, cross private land owned by forest-products company Rayonier, which has a nearby paper mill. Joe Gardner, the lead detective on the case, said the crew had Rayonier’s permission to film on its property next to the train tracks.
“CSX has told me they were aware they were out there, but they did not have permission to be on the train tracks,” Gardner told reporters.
An eyewitness told Variety the Open Road Films drama was in its first day of shooting Thursday afternoon and the crew was filming a dream sequence on a railroad trestle when a train unexpectedly crossed the bridge.
The victim, a second camera assistant, was later identified as Sarah Jones, 27, of Atlanta.
A rep for Open Road has declined to comment on how Thursday’s fatal incident could effect the pic’s future.
The crew, including director Randall Miller, had been warned to expect two trains on the local bridge, one in each direction, and waited until after those two trains had passed to set up their shot, which involved placing a bed on the tracks. The railroad had also told the production that if any additional trains came, they’d hear a whistle about a minute before the train would reach the bridge.
A third train did arrive unexpectedly, blowing its whistle while the crew was on the bridge and the bed was on the track. Crew members ran toward their base camp, which was on land at one end of the bridge, using a plank walkway on the side of the trestle bridge. However in doing so they ran toward the bed. That proved disastrous.
Miller, who also directed the 2008 film “Bottle Shock,” and a still photographer rushed to get the bed off the tracks. Miller fell onto the tracks but the still photographer pulled him off, according to the witness, saving his life. The train was unable to stop and crossed the bridge while the crew was still on the walkway and the bed was still on the tracks.
The bed was hit by the train and shattered, sending debris flying. One large piece of debris hit Jones as she was running and knocked her onto the tracks. She was then struck by the train and killed. Debris also hit and injured several other people, including one who was seriously injured and airlifted to Savannah’s Memorial Health University Medical Center.
Another person also suffered injuries during the accident and was admitted to the hospital while at least two other people from the crew, none seriously injured, were treated in the emergency room at Wayne Memorial Hospital in Jesup, Ga. Gardner told reporters on Thursday that seven people were injured.
In addition to the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department in Jesup, Ga., near where the accident occurred, officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are conducting an investigation, according to a spokesman for the agency in Atlanta.
Starring William Hurt, Bradley Whitford, Eliza Dushku, Zoey Deutch and Tyson Ritter, “Midnight Rider” is set to be released by Open Road in the U.S.
Allman is also an executive producer on the film.
Representatives for the production did not immediately return requests for comment.
Update: Nick Gant, creative director and principal of Meddin Studios in Savannah, which is working with the production, said via email:
“This is not guerrilla film making or a group of indie film makers trying to grab a shot. It was weeks of communications and scouting multiple places. You had to have access to get onto the site. We have 20-30 year veterans in all the departments, crew is extremely qualified, cast trailers were transporter, location was almost 90 minutes away… No corners were cut.”
“CSX will say what they want because they can retract their statement in 6 months and it will have no press around it.
“We are spending too much time trying to place blame on a horrific accident. Sarah’s actions probably saved other peoples lives. The crew, our families and our community are very tight. We are able to hand select who we are going to spend long days and weeks together. Sarah and every crew members were friends, family and professionals at what they did.
“We need to celebrate their accomplishments, their lives and support their families as we move forward.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.