U.S. Department of Labor Cites ‘Midnight Rider’ Production for ‘Willful and Serious’ Safety Violations

Midnight Rider Tragedy sarah Jones
David McNew/Getty Images

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited the production company behind “Midnight Rider” for willful and serious safety violations related to the Feb. 20 train accident that killed camera assistant Sarah Jones and injured eight others during shooting on a trestle near Jesup, Ga. Proposed penalties were set at $74,900.

“Employers are responsible for taking the necessary precautions to protect workers’ health and safety, and the entertainment industry is no exception,” David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said in a statement. “It is unacceptable that Film Allman LLC knowingly exposed their crew to moving trains while filming on a live track and railroad trestle.”

“Their failure to develop a safety plan to prevent such hazards, including obtaining permission from the rail owner to use the tracks for filming, led to the death of one crew member and injuries to eight other employees,” said Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA’s regional administrator for the southeast.

Director Randall Miller and producer Jody Savin, who set up Film Allman to make the biopic of singer Gregg Allman, are each facing criminal charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass. They have pleaded not guilty. Executive producer Jay Sedrish also is facing criminal charges, but he has not yet been arraigned.

The OSHA citations are significant because federal investigators have concluded that the production did not have permission from railroad owner CSX to be on the tracks. An issue in the criminal case, as well as in civil suits brought by Jones’ family and others who were injured, is likely to be the extent to which defendants had knowledge of whether permission was given to be on the tracks.

OSHA issued two citations. One, listed as “serious,” was for exposing workers to “fall hazards” while working on a train trestle not quipped with guardrails or other fall protection measures. The proposed penalty is $4,900. The maximum allowed for such a violation is $7,000.

The other, listed as “willful,” was issued for failing to provide safety measures to protect employees from moving trains. A violation is listed as “willful” if it is “one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health,” according to OSHA. The proposed penalty is $70,000, the maximum allowed for a “willful” violation.

OSHA said that the employees on the set “were working from a live railroad trestle without any safety procedures established, such as securing the tracks from any type of train traffic in the area or having a plan that would allow ample time for everyone to exit the trestle with all of their equipment and props. This exposed employees to a hazard of being struck by a train traveling on the tracks.”

The production will have 15 days to contest the violations or to request an informal conference.

Update: Jeffrey Harris, representing the family of Jones, issued this statement: “While we have yet to see the full report, OSHA’s findings confirm that Sarah’s death was avoidable if common sense safety precautions and actions had been followed. It also confirms that safety was not the first priority on the set of “Midnight Rider’ and that willful ignorance put Sarah — and others — at risk. We will continue the investigation into this tragedy and will hold all parties responsible for their actions or lack thereof. Sarah’s family is determined her death will not be in vain and that safety will be top priority for all involved in the film industry. Safety for Sarah.”

 

 

 

 

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  1. G. H. Harris says:

    This was not just any low speed railroad carrying only a few trains per day, either. This was the CSX main line, near dead level and fairly straight. Freight train speed limit 70 mph and they really run that fast. Also has four Amtrak trains allowed 79 mph. The bridge was not just any low wood trestle, either. It was a steel through truss bridge with no walkway so there was nowhere to go other than run on the ties for the end or jump over the side into the swamp and stream below, neither a good choice. (It is very common for older railroad bridges, other than road overpasses, to have no walkway, as even if there is one, you do not want to be that close to a passing train running at any sort of speed.

    • Steve Baker says:

      I’ve worked on land immediately adjacent to tracks with parked trains moving at 0 MPH. Even THAT was dangerous as the train was very long, more than 40 cars. Had someone moved the train ½ a car length, any of our crew could have been seriously injured or killed. So I had to remind them, frequently, that standing on or near (arm’s length) to a parked train was too risky and wasn’t permitted. Most crews I’ve worked with don’t think that much about safety unless we’re up high. So I can imagine the Midnight Rider moving onto the track without question, trusting the Production Office to have everything all squared away.

      The fact that these two/3 idiot producers went to CSX TWICE and were turned down TWICE, is the most damning evidence possible of willful intent to circumvent existing regulations and safety protocols — at the sole risk of the crew on the tracks. They should, and will, go to jail for criminal acts, and be bankrupt by Sarah’s parents when they bring the civil suit for the wrongful death claim.

      And beyond that, I can’t imagine anyone hiring any of these 3 for chewing gum inserts. Further, I can’t imagine any crew person willing to work on any project in which any of these are hired in any capacity, including but not limited to sweeping the set. 35 years in production and I’ve never heard anything remotely close to this level of criminal disregard for crew safety.

      As an aside, I wonder why the First A.D. didn’t ask to see the location permit. As we watch Hollywood decline in response to other states tax credits, people are hired without the training and mentoring that I was lucky enough to have received when I was starting, getting coffee for grumpy grips. I always ask to see the location permit, if for no other reason than to find out what riders, boundaries, limitations I’m under that Locations hasn’t mentioned. Lack of a physical permit to be on the property is bad; on a train trestle without flagmen, communication to Dispatch, a real train schedule, it’s unconscionable.

      Landis’ 1st A.D. on Twilight Zone was never called to testify, yet had he been paying proper attention, the nail board operator wouldn’t have worn a welder’s mask with a helicopter over loaded mortars. A competent 1st is meant to be aware of all possible negative outcomes and make every effort to mitigate them. That guy didn’t. Here, the 1st’s name here hasn’t even been mentioned. Once again, the Court/Prosecution has no real concept of how motion picture production works.

      A further aside: OSHA seems shy of teeth. $70K and that’s it? When the court finds defendants guilty of Involuntary Manslaughter, how will the $70K look then? Like Ray Rice’s 2 game first suspension?

  2. J.E. Vizzusi says:

    Although serious violations here, I hope and pray this is the least of their problems as criminal actions come forth. Hopefully the Judge will rule this evidence can be used in the Manslaughter Trial.

  3. talonstrike says:

    Well, that’s a big nail in their coffin. It’s going to be hard to claim they had permission now when OSHA has cited them for not having permission. Miller, Savin, and Sedrish are probably talking plea deal right now.

    • J.E. Vizzusi says:

      They have entered a plea of not guilty. So therefore they have elected this case go to trial. Yes, they can change their plea at anytime to guilty to possibly a lesser charge than Manslaughter if the State offers them such a deal. So far the accused have admitted no wrong doings. I see this case going to trial hopefully very soon.

  4. Ralcarbo says:

    Is proofreading optional?

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