‘Midnight Rider’ Filmmakers Charged with Involuntary Manslaughter in Sarah Jones Death

Midnight Rider Doctortown Trestle Sarah Jones
Mike McCall for Variety

Prosecutors in Georgia have charged “Midnight Rider” filmmakers Randall Miller, Jody Savin and Jay Sedrish with involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing in the Feb. 20 death of 27-year old camera assistant Sarah Jones.

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 is also 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 Wayne County District Attorney’s office, in an announcement Thursday, said the county’s grand jury had returned the indictment on Wednesday after Detective Joe Gardner presented the case.

Jones died just minutes into the first day of shooting. The crew was shooting a dream sequence in which a hospitalized Gregg Allman sees his dead brother Duane on a bridge. The location was a trestle over the Altamaha River with only a narrow service gangway for pedestrians.

On May 21, Jones’ family filed a wrongful death suit against Miller, Savin and Sedrish. Also named as defendants were Gregg Allman, distributor Open Road Films and the companies that own the railroad tracks and surrounding land.

The 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.

The suit was filed Chatham County, Ga., by Jones’ parents, Richard and Elizabeth Jones, and her estate. A “Midnight rider” makeup artist and a hairstylist on the film have also sued the same defendants over the injuries they suffered.

According to the Jones family’s suit, an employee of Rayonier, the company that owns the land around the tracks, told the defendants only two trains would pass on the tracks per day — even though the line gets 10 to 12 trains in a typical day.

After waiting for two trains to pass, the production went onto the bridge thinking that the tracks would probably be unused for the rest of the day. The production placed a hospital bed on the railroad tracks for the dream scene with star William Hurt and an oncoming train blew its whistle.

The crew had been warned that if they heard a train whistle, they would have a minute to clear. But the train arrived in less than a minute, and the crew did not have time to clear people from the bridge or the bed from the tracks — and when the train struck the bed, its metal parts were turned into flying shrapnel.

Jones was hit by a piece of metal and knocked into the path of the train. She was struck by the train and killed.

The fatality has inspired the Hollywood community to seek increased awareness of safety issues. Earlier this week, a two-minute “We Are Sarah Jones” public service video was released with a wide variety of actors and below-the-line crew members holding placards with slogans such as “We are Sarah,” “Safety for Sarah,” “Slates for Sarah” and “Never forget, Never Again.”

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  1. Albert says:

    Unquestionably consider that that you stated. Your favourite justification seemed to be
    on the internet the easiest thing to take into account of.
    I say to you, I certainly get irked whilst folks think about concerns that they plainly
    do not recognise about. You managed to hit the nail upon the highest
    and defined out the entire thing with no need side effect , folks could take
    a signal. Will likely be again to get more. Thanks

  2. JUDY says:

    WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A CHARACTER FALLS ILL NOT WHEN ON SET AND CANNOT AFFORD MEDICAL EXPENSENSES HENCE DIES WHEN AWAITING TO BE ADMITTED AFTER 24 HOURS DUE PROCEDURES TO BE FOLLOWED BEFORE ADMISSION?

  3. Ric James says:

    As a independent filmmaker, I don’t care how fantastic a location looks, I won’t put my crew in a situation like that, especially when it could have been done safely in a studio.

  4. ian beer says:

    not to put the blame on the AD alone. Clearly there were decisions made “above the line” that put everyone at risk. such a shame.

  5. ian beer says:

    I work in Vancouver BC in film and see out of town ADs all of the time. With an out of town AD running the show, their bottom line is getting their day. They have no working or personal relationship with the crew so they often take risks with no repercussions.
    Sadly, the reality is that the film process won’t change and a lot of times the person(s) leading the charge puts safety secondary.
    As film technicians we all have to take initiative to look out for each other, and not be afraid to speak up when we see or feel something is unsafe.
    These guys should be put in jail.
    RIP Sarah Jones. Never forget.

  6. Kathy Skinner says:

    What happened to William Hurt?

  7. kurt hulett says:

    Putting your crew in a life threatening situation knowing you don’t have permission to be there is NOT manslaughter…IT’S MURDER. Someone on that production knew they were NOT supposed to be there…

  8. kurt hulett says:

    And where was the site rep and the location manager? This is a result of greedy producers cutting corners with safety,lack of experience, and fear of losing your job if you say something…

  9. markustt says:

    There’s a big difference between “stealing a shot’ and shooting a scene on an active train bridge. Also, if your going to get advice on the number of trains from a neighbor instead of the train dispatcher then you deserve to be charged and convicted. A young woman lost her life due to the ignorance of these producers.

    • Tom Peace says:

      There certainly were culpable acts committed here. These guys should be banned by the film industry from ever touching a camera, script or even treatment again! No excuses, no defense!

  10. fritzi says:

    They did not have a permit, nor permission to use the tracks. Period.

  11. Andy Cohen says:

    Why is First AD Hillary Schwartz not included in these Charges?!!! She is ultimately responsible for safety on set and needs to be held accountable.

    • JJ says:

      Because maybe she was told the same as everyone else? That there would only be two trains and they had permission to be there? ADs are responsible for safety while filming, but not if she had nothing to do with the train situation.

  12. SmartAssPants says:

    It’s about time!

  13. Rowdy Maglite says:

    There is no excuse For safety on a railroad track .. Not notifying the railroad was your first crime … Trespassing! And the loss of live over saving a buck$ My prays go to Family and Film crew members To whom I am friends with some if you … Think it’s not safe walk away with your LIFE! No Money,can be fixed, but lives cannot be replaced.. Keep DAT LITE SHINING!

  14. Max says:

    Was this film ever finished ? Also, was Gregg Allman involved in the making of this movie, or did he just sign the rights of his book to those involved with making this movie. I had read that the parents of this young women were also going to sue for wrongful death of their daughter. So many films are shot in so many different places, it must be very hard to make sure that everyone is safe.

    • Sarah Jones says:

      This film will never be finished. Gregg Allman was a producer then bailed and issued a cease and desist. William Hurt quit. Game over. I’ve worked on films for over 28 years now. It is not hard to make sure everyone is safe. I’ve shot on active railroad tracks and we had reps from the train company with comms , had to wear vests and were not allowed to use cellphones – all in the name of safety. These guys gambled with the lives of crew and lost. They deserve prison time. Period.

      • Andy says:

        Exactly but I think those charged will probably skate because no one will be seated on the jury who has worked on a movie set. Those of us who have worked on sets, know with virtual certitude of precisely went down because we’ve nearly all been on sets where the filmmakers try to steal a shot. Of course, the big difference is we’re usually on movies that try to steal shots of an actor walking out a door, or other innocuous actions. I suspect the only thing more dangerous that what Randall Miller did was to try and “steal” a shot on a the flight deck of an active aircraft carrier.

  15. Nanny Mo says:

    The charges should stick. You can’t treat your team this way and be professional. It makes all of us in the industry look bad. I would hardly recommend Joe Wallenstein’s eBook, “Nothing Dies for Film.” And you’ll see what I mean.

  16. Michael Haverty says:

    I”do think that the charges won’t stick. But it should send a clear message, to irresponsible filmmakers, and to the Georgia film community. On the very real important need to have an onset- safety officer As absolutely mandatory in the State of Calif. as Georgia is growing in the fim community, there are a lot of independently produced projects, in Georgia that don’t even have a first aid kit onset..yes this is true you know who you are…so please don’t just jump on the Sarah Jones: band wagon, as some have, always have a person who can at least give first aid, or an onset SFO officer..and be SAFE (SARAH JONES)
    Sir-Michael Haverty:

    • L says:

      It’s important for ALL FILMMAKERS EVERYWHERE to know about this & why it happened. It wasn’t a Georgia film crew, for your information. They were from LA. It was an LA production company. Please stop perpetuating the lies about Georgia & the south in general in regards to filmmaking. There’s a reason production & CREW are leaving the west coast to work on the east coast. It’s just better incentives. So quit with your sour grapes tirades. It’s really getting boring & old. Hey folks just may like it here better than the fake la la land. There are plenty of safety precautions taken with first aid kits, onset SFO & people that actually know better. This isn’t the first time a tragedy has happened on a set, and a lot of the previous ones took place on the west coast. So your harping is totally null & void about the southern filmmaking. This one just happens to be the first one here, and we vowed to never let this happen again on any of our watch. I would be surprised if the charges didn’t stick. Letting this happen so callously is horrible. The LA production company & director caused this. And the few crew members that are local didn’t know not to speak up for fear of losing their jobs, which you know happens on many a set. Crew gets worked tirelessly & needlessly on some sets, and the kowtow to the producers & directors because they want to work again. Not anymore. I would hope the powers in charge will take this as a reminder to treat crew better & crew will definitely speak up for themselves & fellow workers & realize that losing a job is worth it instead of losing a life.

      • Michael Haverty says:

        “Your comment about Fake la la land…this really is a redneck Water tower statement. Of course it’s fake love. Movies aren’t real life there entertainment… Yes everyone that lives in Califorina really wishes they lived in Georgia. But I want you to put your thinking cap on for a moment….where do you think all those produtions that your bashing about are base out of Utah?? Please.. Listen if Hollywood today would we’re pulling out of GA, you would go back to making bad Rap videos…

      • Debbie Valenta says:

        If you’re convinced the charges will stick, you might be too young to remember the Twilight Zone movie debacle.

    • Jeff Sutton says:

      Leave your sour grapes out of this, Michael. Do you seriously expect anyone to believe we don’t have first aid kits on FF7, Insurgent, Hunger Games, and all the other multi-million dollar projects you wish you were working on? Again, it wasn’t Georgia filmmakers who got Sarah killed. It was low-rent L.A. filmmakers. Get that straight.

      • Michael Haverty says:

        Sour grapes ? Mr. Sutton of course the bigger Hollywood Produtions, using Georgia’s tax incentives, filming there are going to have a SFO onset for bigger films. But the smaller projects that are going on in Georgia, regardless where there from don’t. Listen I don’t want to get into debate here with people who know little or nothing about that process of film making.

  17. I hope there will be justice, and let this be a reminder to all productions—it never pays to try to cut corners on important issues like safety.

    • Jeff Sutton says:

      “Little or nothing about the process of filmmaking”? Check your own IMDB, pal. That would be you.

    • Tom Peace says:

      To all commenters, don’t any of you ever proof-read what you have written? The atrocious spelling and grammar make you sound like you are from Lick Skillet, NC. It totally belittles you as a knowledgeable commenter, belies your attempt to pass yourself off as a film professional, and makes you a buffoon!

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