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‘Midnight Rider’ Director Cites ‘Model Behavior,’ Poor Health in Seeking Early Jail Release

Midnight Rider Director
Amy Sussman/Getty Images

A court official says a hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 23 on “Midnight Rider” director Randall Miller’s motion to be released early from Wayne County Jail, where he is in custody after pleading guilty to criminal charges stemming from the Feb. 20, 2014, train accident that killed camera assistant Sarah Jones and injured eight others.

In a filing with Wayne County Superior Court, Miller’s attorney Ed Garland cites Miller’s model behavior as well as Miller’s deteriorating health in seeking a reduction of his time in custody.

In March, Miller was given a ten-year sentence after pleading guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass. The sentence included two years in custody.

But in a motion to modify his sentence, Garland wrote that the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department has a policy whereby inmates can earn “two-for-one credit” for good behavior. The state gives the sheriff the discretion to do so, and in some cases to award four-to-one credit, Garland noted.

Miller’s attorney noted that the director, 53, has over the past few weeks gained 39 pounds, and a nurse recently found that his blood pressure was elevated and he has complained of shortness of breath and a persistent cough.

“Doctors consulted by Mr. Miller’s family fear that congestive heart failure might be the cause of his sudden weight gain, bilateral edema, shortness of breath and persistent cough; they have determined that an intensive cardiac workup is required to diagnose and treat Mr. Miller’s condition,” Garland wrote. He added that he has a history of cardiac issues and his family has a history of strokes, and said Miller requires “serious medical attention and treatment.” If he were released, Garland wrote, Miller would bear the cost and not the county.

Camera assistant Jones was killed when the production of “Midnight Rider” was shooting on a train trestle near Jesup, Ga., and a train came unexpectedly, forcing cast and crew to scramble to get to safety. The production company did not secure a permit from the owner of the tracks, CSX Transportation Corp. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued nearly $75,000 in safety fines. An appeals panel upheld the sanctions after they were challenged by Film Allman, the company that Miller and his wife Jody Savin set up to make the independent feature.

The motion also includes details on how Miller has been spending his time. From May to August, he has been on laundry detail from 6:45 a.m. to 10:15 p.m. seven days a week, according to Garland’s motion. It also says that he has worked on a film project “highlighting the benefits and challenges of the ‘Drug Court’ program,” editing it from inside the jail in a multipurpose room.

“Because of Mr. Miller’s status in the film industry, he was able to raise money from actors and Hollywood executives to film and edit the project, which all involved felt was a worthy endeavor,” Garland wrote. “To be clear, this is not a project that would benefit Mr. Miller financially; its goal is to assist the county in addressing and shedding light on the drug epidemic.”

He also wrote that Miller has been helping out teaching inmates GED class, and that the Wayne County High School has brought him in to speak to film students.

“To date, Mr. Miller has completed 1955 hours of community service, including teaching the GED classes and working on the Drug Court project,” Garland wrote.

He also indicated that Miller wanted to “tell his story to others, and share how so many things went wrong that day, so that the film industry and movie sets become safe places and others do not make the same mistakes that happened here.”

Garland wrote that Miller “has relived the day of the accident over and over and has taken full responsibility,” but said the director’s focus on that day was on the creative aspects of the movie, relying on the locations department, the first assistant director and Rayonier Paper Products Co., which owned the land around the tracks, to make sure they had the proper permits. Garland wrote that Miller “knows that in his and the crew’s exuberance to start the movie, the appropriate discussions did not take place and the right safety measures were not taken.”

“Many other people share responsibility for the accident that happened on February 20, but Mr. Miller knows he bears ultimate responsibility for the safety of case and crew, and he feels immensely guilty that he let them down,” Garland wrote. “He is so disappointed with himself that he let them down.”

He also wrote that Miller has paid $14,000 of a $25,000 fine, and expects to pay the remainder this month.

News that Miller was seeking early release was first reported by Deadline Hollywood.