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‘Midnight Rider’: Hearing Set on Filmmakers’ Appeal of OSHA Violations

Midnight Rider Doctortown Trestle Sarah Jones
Mike McCall for Variety

A federal commission has scheduled a hearing starting on March 31 on the “Midnight Rider” filmmakers’ appeal of almost $75,000 in fines and safety violations proposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which investigated the Feb. 20 train accident that killed camera assistant Sarah Jones and injured eight others on the film’s set last year.

Film Allman, set up by director Randall Miller and producer Jody Savin to make a biopic of singer Gregg Allman, is contesting the OSHA violations. It is scheduled for a review before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, an independent federal agency. A spokeswoman for the agency said that the hearing will take place in Savannah, Ga.

In response to OSHA’s proposed penalties, imposed in August, the filmmakers said in a response filed last year that they “took reasonable steps to ensure the safety of all crew present on site for filming at the incident location.” The filmmakers added that they relied on information provided “by others as to the condition of the railroad tracks.”

“This was an isolated incident that is not reflective of the safe work history” of the filmmakers, the response stated. It was filed by their attorneys with Garland, Samuel & Loeb.

Miller, Savin, executive producer Jay Sedrish and first assistant director Hillary Schwartz are each facing charges of criminal trespass and involuntary manslaughter. Each has pleaded not guilty. A trial is scheduled to start on March 9 in a Wayne County, Ga., court.

The accident occurred when a CSX train unexpectedly came down the tracks as the crew was in production, with a hospital bed placed on the tracks. CSX says that the production never got permission to shoot on the tracks or a trestle near Jesup, Ga., even though they did have permission to shoot on surrounding property.

In August, 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.”