‘Midnight Rider’ Investigation: Sheriff Will Leave Question of Criminal Charges to D.A.

Midnight Rider Doctortown Trestle Sarah Jones
Mike McCall for Variety

Wayne County Sheriff John Carter said that his office will not pursue their own criminal charges stemming from the Feb. 21 train trestle accident on the set of “Midnight Rider,” but will instead present the case to the district attorney to determine if any such action should be taken.

Carter said on Monday that their investigation was complete, and that they will lay out the case to the district attorney in Georgia’s Brunswick Judicial Circuit in a meeting scheduled for April 21.

Among the questions is whether any type of criminal charges will be filed, such as trespassing or negligence.

Sarah Jones, second camera assistant, was killed and seven others were injured when a train unexpectedly came down the tracks as the crew was at the bridge trestle during shooting of a dream sequence in the Gregg Allman biopic. The sequence, being shot in a rural area near Jesup, Ga., involved putting a hospital bed on the tracks.

Carter said that one of the reasons that they are not pursuing their own criminal charges is the unusual nature of the incident, including “conflicting stories” of whether the production had permission to be on the tracks. The investigation also has queried crew members on who ordered the crew to be on the tracks. Carter said that although they do pursue criminal charges in other cases, they do not in cases where there are lingering questions of “who said what or did what.”

“We’re the finder of facts,” he said.

CSX, the owner of the railroad, has told investigators that producers of the indie film were denied permission to work on the tracks.

Mark Spaulding, a spokesman for the district attorney, said that law enforcement agencies at times will forgo pursuing criminal charges on their own when they are unsure if an incident “rises to the level of criminality.”

Rayonier, the paper company that owns the land surrounding the tracks at the accident site, has confirmed it gave the production permission to be on the land. However Rayonier does not own the tracks or have authority to grant access to them. According to the sheriff’s incident report, after the accident a CSX employee asked producer Jay Sedrish if he had permission to be on the trestle or tracks and Sedrish replied, “That’s complicated.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board also are conducting investigations into the incident, as are attorneys representing Jones’ family with the possibility of filing a civil complaint. Last week, her parents, Richard and Elizabeth Jones, told the Associated Press that their daughter’s death was “senseless.”