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

Midnight Rider Tragedy sarah Jones
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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.”