‘Midnight Rider’: Grand Jury Says Filmmakers Were Trespassing

Sarah Jones Midnight Rider Death

A grand jury in Georgia has accused “Midnight Rider” filmmakers Randall Miller, Jody Savin and Jay Sedrish of venturing onto the railroad tracks and trestle without the permission of the railroad, leading to the Feb. 20 death of 27-year old camera assistant Sarah Jones. It’s a key charge for the case that has rallied the production community on behalf of Jones.

The trio was indicted by a Wayne County grand jury on charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing. The indictment — legally, a finding of probable cause — alleged the filmmakers had “unlawfully and without authority” had entered the CSX railroad tracks and trestle “after receiving, prior to that entry, notice from the owner thereof that such entry was denied.”

What had been unclear until the indictment was handed down was whether prosecutors believed CSX’s contention that they had told Wayne County sheriff’s investigators that it had refused permission for the production to use its tracks and claimed it had “electronic correspondence” to prove it.

The film’s producers have suggested they received emails from the railroad that either stated or implied consent — but none of those messages have been made public. The criminal trespass charge suggests no such messages were produced by the production. There was no immediate response from Miller, Savin and Sedrish on Thursday.

The involuntary manslaughter charge stems from the trespass charge with the indictment alleging that each unlawfully caused the death of Jones “without any intention to do so by the commission of an unlawful act other than a felony, to-wit: criminal trespass as defined in count one of this indictment.”

The initial sheriff’s investigation was turned over to the Wayne County D.A. weeks ago, but the D.A. returned the case to the sheriff for further investigation. The long gap between the accident and the indictment may suggest weakness in the prosecution case.

The timing of the indictment, on the day before a holiday weekend, is also curious. It suggests a “news dump,” timed to avoid media attention. But the indictment is likely to be popular in Georgia, where the death of Sarah Jones outraged local crews, and unlikely to spark much pushback from Hollywood, where few have voiced sympathy for Miller, Savin or the production.

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 was also to be 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 issue of whether permission had been given to shoot on the railroad tracks is also a part of the wrongful death civil suit filed May 21 by Jones’ family against Miller, Savin and Sedrish. along with Gregg Allman, distributor Open Road Films and the companies that own the railroad tracks and surrounding land.

That 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.

Jeffrey Harris, the attorney for the Jones family and Sarah Jones’ estate, told Variety at the time that he had filed partly because he had run out of patience with the District Attorney’s office.

“I was willing to wait a reasonable period of time to see if the D.A.’s office was going to make a decision, but you can’t wait forever,” he said. “The civil case runs on a completely separate and parallel track from the criminal case. So in order for us to have the ability serve subpoenas and take depositions and submit document requests and do all that sort of stuff, we have to go ahead and get the the case into suit; otherwise we can’t get to the bottom of what happened that day.”

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 15

Leave a Reply

15 Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. GreatMinds says:

    Bob the 1st AD is from a fairly wealthy family, her father is an attorney, i’ll bet you dollars to donuts that’s probably how she wiggled out of this one!

  2. Bob Johnson says:

    It occurred to me perhaps the reason why the 1st AD is not part of this indictment is she has been flipped and given immunity to testify. That’s the only way these 3 can go down. No one will talk usless its to save them from jail. Every person that was on the shoot that day knows if they testified for the prosecution, they would never work in the industry again.

  3. The average sentence for manslaughter is 7 years in the US. So if it is 10 years in Georgia then that is about right.

  4. meg conway says:

    I hadn’t read the details of Sarah’s death. I understand why everyone is so devastated, not only at the loss of Sarah, but that it could and should have been prevented.
    My comment is concerning safety, should anyone in the TV or film industry want to work in North Carolina, please read my comment.
    Here in North Carolina most corporations are not held liable for injuries, due to an archaic common law which essentially eliminates all liability for hazards they create, while the injured party receives next to no medical expense recovery, no loss of income recovery, and no pain and suffering compensation.
    This means that some corporations may not be as conscious of personal safety, and when someone is injured, they will not think they need to compensate that person-even if they are permanently disabled and cannot work again, and they will use their insurers to make certain that it goes that way.
    Courts in North Carolina, and here in Asheville NC, Buncombe County justice Powell agreed with the corporations here in North Carolina.
    My injury was here on a Biltmore Farms property, Jack Cecil CEO (vanderbilt descendent) insured by Hartford Insurance, Liam McGee CEO (former bank of america ceo).
    Please read here even if you are thinking of visiting North Carolina, especially if you think you are going to be on a Biltmore property insured by Hartford Insurance.
    http://chn.ge/1fhM4si

  5. jeff says:

    This is a very poorly written article. I’m not looking for the gory details, but if you’re going to say that going onto this railroad was what accidentally caused this death, you have to say what the manner of death was. Did she fall off the bridge? Did she get hit by a train? I’m assuming a connection, but because there’s no specifics, I’m just assuming it.

    • Tom Davidson says:

      Jeff:

      The circumstances of Sarah’s death, including the conflicting stories about permission to be on the bridge, have been discussed in the news media as well as this and other forums, including railroad-related forums, since the event occurred February 20. The film crew was on the bridge when the train approached. The bed was between Sarah and her only escape route. There was not enough time for the entire crew to get off the bridge with the bed. The locomotive struck the bed and sent pieces of it flying. Pieces of the bed hit Sarah and knocked her directly into the path of the locomotive. All versions of the story agree on these basic facts.

      The failure to repeat these oft-stated facts does not make the article “poorly written”.

      Now it’s up to the courts to decide who is responsible.

      Tom

      • J.E. Vizzusi says:

        To break it down. They were cheating the shot on what they called a test shoot first day. No permission to shoot directly on the Railroad Tracks. Dream sequence with hospital bed as a prop. Lead Actor, most crew present.

  6. J.E. Vizzusi says:

    We want justice for Sarah. But trespassing, really? Are you kidding me? So if I wonder into Farmer Johns cow pasture intentionally and shoot Farmer John thinking he was a deer, its involuntary manslaughter? I realize the criminal intent side of this but I would of gone with gross negligence resulting in death and injury. Convincing a jury that has never been on a Film set of a verdict of manslaughter is a stretch. I’m worried these clowns will walk with misdemeanor charges only. JEV

    • Tom says:

      Trespassing is the action that precipitated what came after. News reports generally agree that permission was asked of CSX Railroad, and CSX denied permission. The production staff reportedly got their info on train operations from someone other than the railroad. That’s the likely reason Miller says he had no idea another train was coming. But the railroad had started that train from Memphis TN a long time before the tragedy, so they knew it was coming. If CSX told the filmmakers “stay off our tracks”, it’s grossly irresponsible and negligent to be there. After all, the Railroad would be the people who know about operations on the Railroad, wouldn’t they? Why were no Railroad representatives present at Mr. Miller’s “party” on the bridge?

    • Steve says:

      Yes really. If you are trespassing on Farmer Jones’ property and accidently put a bullet through his head, under Georgia law you can be charged with involuntary manslaughter

      • J.E. Vizzusi says:

        Thanks for the clarification. I still think the Prosecution should indite but lesser charges will prevail. Any degree of Manslaughter is a reach as no matter how sleazy and negligent the accused were they did not have any intent to do harm or to cause bodily injury. Its gross negligence causing death and injury at best. Hopefully the jury will have options to raise or lower the charges. Even a involuntary manslaughter charge you must prove intent to harm. This was not the case. Its weird how this horrible tragedy has lost steam in the media.. for me, time will never cure the loss and injury of crew on this location and I hope that is the same for ones that work in production.

    • Railroad Right of Way is private property. Everything that happened stems from that single illegal event.

  7. ralcarbo says:

    I guess the grand jury can’t accuse them of arrogance and stupidity.

  8. perrymason says:

    Headline is misleading. Grand juries only decide there is probable cause to believe something not that the accusation is true.

More Film News from Variety

Loading