Railroad operator CSX Transportation has filed a cross claim against the filmmakers behind “Midnight Rider,” contending that the company twice denied them permission to film on train tracks where a Feb. 20 accident killed Sarah Jones and injured six others.
In a filing in Chatham County, Ga., CSX that it “unequivocally denied each request in writing, citing a company policy which prohibits filming on CSXT’s property due to safety and security reasons.”
CSX contends that prior to the accident, the filmmakers or their agents twice sought permission to shoot on the tracks that pass over the property of a Rayonier paper factory and the Altahama River near Jesup, Ga. The requests were turned down.
The train company, in its civil claim for intentional trespass, is seeking damages and attorneys fees from director Randall Miller, producer Jody Savin, executive producer Jay Sedrish and Unclaimed Freight Prods.
CSX is among the defendants in a civil suit filed by Jones’ family in May. The train operator is seeking to be dismissed from that case, contending that it did not bear liability for the accident. In the filing, CSX said that although two train crews passed over the Rayonier property earlier in the day and saw people in the vicinity of the tracks, they were not “immediately near” the tracks or trestle.
“CSXT denies that it had prior knowledge that the ‘Midnight Rider’ cast and film crew or their equipment were or would be on its tracks or trestle,” the company said. “CSXT admits that, because CSXT lacked any such knowledge, CSXT did not send a representative to remove the ‘Midnight Rider’ defendants or their equipment from its tracks and trestle.”
Miller, Savin and Sedrish each are facing criminal charges of criminal trespass and involuntary manslaughter. They have each plead not guilty.
CSX also is seeking punitive damages, claiming that the filmmakers have “displayed in the past similar willful misconduct, wantonness and a conscious indifference to the consequences of their actions.”
In July, Miller and Savin issued a statement in which they wrote that they “have always emphasized the safety of the crew.”
“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.”
A key question in the case is likely to be the extent to which members of the crew had knowledge of the CSX emails. One of Miller and Savin’s attorneys, Ed Garland, said in July, “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.”