Updated 1:15 p.m. PST:
Investigators in Georgia are trying to determine the circumstances that led to a fatal train accident that killed a crew member on the set of the Gregg Allman biopic “Midnight Rider” near Savannah, Ga., on Thursday.
The victim was identified as Sarah Jones, 27, of Atlanta, according to Ed Mathis of the Wayne County Coroner’s Office. Her parents live in West Columbia, S.C.
Sources said that she was a second camera assistant who was killed when a freight train operated by CSX Corp. struck her as crew members scrambled to get out of the way. Seven other crew members were injured, according to Wayne County Sheriff’s detective Joe Gardner, who appeared at a news conference with reporters late Thursday. He said they were treating the case as a homicide “until we have more information.”
Gardner said that the production, which came from Meddin Studios in Savannah, had permission from CSX and Rayonier, the paper and forest products company that owns land in the vicinity, “to be in that general area.”
In addition to the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department in Jesup, Ga., near where the accident occurred, officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are conducting an investigation, according to a spokesman for the agency in Atlanta. A spokesman with the National Transportation and Safety Administration said that they were aware of the accident, but he could not immediately say whether an investigation had been launched.
An eyewitness told Variety the picture was in its first day of shooting and the crew was filming a dream sequence on a railroad trestle when a train unexpectedly crossed the bridge.
The crew, including director Randall Miller, had been warned to expect two trains on the local bridge, one in each direction, and waited until after those two trains had passed to set up their shot, which involved placing a bed on the tracks. The railroad had also told the production that if any additional trains came, they’d hear a whistle about a minute before the train would reach the bridge.
A third train did arrive unexpectedly, blowing its whistle while the crew was on the bridge and the bed was on the track. Crew members ran toward their base camp, which was on land at one end of the bridge, using a plank walkway on the side of the trestle bridge. However in doing so they ran toward the bed. That proved disastrous.
Miller, who also directed the 2008 film “Bottle Shock,” and a still photographer rushed to get the bed off the tracks. Miller fell onto the tracks but the still photographer pulled him off, according to the witness, saving his life. The train was unable to stop and crossed the bridge while the crew was still on the walkway and the bed was still on the tracks.
The bed was hit by the train and shattered, sending debris flying. One large piece of debris hit Jones as she was running and knocked her onto the tracks. She was then struck by the train and killed. Debris also hit and injured several other people, including one who was seriously injured and airlifted to Savannah’s Memorial Health University Medical Center.
Another person from the production also suffered injuries during the accident and was admitted to the hospital while at least two other people from the crew, none seriously injured, were treated in the emergency room at Wayne Memorial Hospital in Jesup, Ga.
Starring William Hurt, Bradley Whitford, Eliza Dushku, Zoey Deutch and Tyson Ritter, “Midnight Rider” is set to be released by Open Road in the U.S.
Allman is also an executive producer on the film.