“Midnight Rider” director Randall Miller and producer Jody Savin, who are facing involuntary manslaughter charges in the Feb. 20 death of camera assistant Sarah Jones, reiterated their belief that they had permission to shoot on the tracks and that there was no danger to the cast and crew as they shot on the trestle.
In a lengthy statement to ABC News through their attorneys, Miller and Savin said that they “believed there was no danger present in filming on the tracks that day because they believed they had permission to be on the tracks from Rayonier and CSX.” ABC’s “20/20” on Friday is spotlighting the train accident that killed Jones and injured eight others.
The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced in August proposed fines of almost $75,000 against the production, citing “willful and serious safety violations,” including failing to obtain permission from CSX to be on the tracks and for not developing a safety plan to prevent such hazards. The production did obtain permission from Rayonier paper company to be on its property surrounding the tracks.
“Before filming, the film crew was let onto the property by Rayonier representatives,” Miller and Savin’s attorney said in their statement. “They were informed that only two trains would be going down the tracks by a representative from Rayonier, who was present. Then they personally observed two trains pass by. So when they were told to go ahead and film on the tracks they had no reason to believe that anyone would be placed in danger by doing so.”
Their statement reiterated their defense: That they were in the belief that they had permission to be there.
“Randall Miller was on the tracks beside the bed directing the filming,” the statement said. “He had no reason to believe another train would come down the tracks, or that he shouldn’t rely on the information given by Rayonier that no other trains would come that day. He would never knowingly or deliberately put anyone on his crew in danger or put himself in danger.” The statement goes to on to describe Miller’s own experience during the accident, when he was nearly trapped on the tracks before a crew member pulled him off as the train approached.
CSX said that it did not grant permission to the production to be on the tracks and informed location manager Charley Baxter, who was not on the set that day. In court papers, Baxter said that he was unable to secure approval.
Miller, Savin, executive producer Jay Sedrish and first assistant director Hillary Schwartz are each facing charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass. Each has pleaded not guilty. A trial is scheduled to start in March.
The movie was to tell the story of singer Gregg Allman, with William Hurt as the star. When the train approached, the crew was in production on a dream sequence in which Allman is in a hospital bed placed on the tracks.
Jones’ family is pursuing a civil suit against the four criminal defendants and a dozen others. Earlier this week, the family said that they had reached an agreement to dismiss distributor Open Road Films, Allman and his manager Michael Lehman from the case.