×

Judge Upholds ‘Midnight Rider’ OSHA Fines: Sarah Jones’ Death ‘Was Entirely Preventable’

A judge has refused to overturn almost $75,000 in fines against the “Midnight Rider” filmmakers for safety violations in connection with the Feb. 20, 2014 train accident that killed camera assistant Sarah Jones and injured eight others.

The judge, Sharon D. Calhoun, upheld the fines in a decision issued on Tuesday.

In a statement, Kurt Petermeyer, regional administrator for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s southeast division, said, “Bad management decisions have real and lasting consequences, and when those decisions involve safety, the consequences can be tragic. The death of Sarah Jones is particularly disheartening because it was entirely preventable.

Film Allman’s management blatantly disregarded their obligation to ensure the safety of their crew and cast. They were fully aware that the railroad tracks were live, and that they did not have permission to film there. While yesterday’s decision cannot correct or reverse the terrible events of February 2014, we hope that it will serve as a reminder to the film industry that safety has an important, necessary role on every set and in every workplace.”

Director Randall Miller and producer Jody Savin’s company Film Allman was slapped with willful safety violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but they challenged the fines in an appeal to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

An attorney for Film Allman did not immediately return a call for comment.

The movie had been shooting on a train trestle near Jesup, Ga., when a train came unexpectedly, forcing cast and crew to flee. OSHA cited the failure of the production to obtain permission to be on the tracks. Two citations were issued: A “willful” violation for the employer’s failure to provide safety measures to protect employees from moving trains, and a “serious” citation for exposing workers to fall hazards while working on a train trestle that was not equipped with safety guardrails or other fall protection measures.

Miller is serving a two-year jail sentence in Wayne County, Ga. after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass just before a criminal trial in the case was scheduled to being in March.

Update: The ruling renders definitive conclusions that safety measures, along multiple parts of the production process, were ignored, with one of the most egregious being that production supervisors were aware that they were shooting on live train tracks yet did not inform the crew members of that fact when they were sent to the trestle to capture the scene. William Hurt did question whether they would have enough time to get off the trestle if a train came through, but supervisors “did not seriously address his safety concerns.”

Calhoun also rejects a central argument of Film Allman, that because they were told that only two trains would pass by that day, once that happened they believed the tracks were safe. In testimony, Miller had said that it was the communications director for Rayonier Performance Fibers, owner of the property surrounding the tracks, who gave them the information about train schedules, but Calhoun cited contradictory testimony from Miller on whether he had met the Rayonier official before or after the accident.

“The ‘two trains’ story appears to be a smokescreen concocted to afford Film Allman plausible deniability with respect to hazards to which it exposed employees on February 20, 2014,” Calhoun wrote. She noted that when the production arrived at the location at about 3:30 p.m. that day, none of the supervisors inquired with security guards whether two had already passed.

“This would appear to be crucial information for a filming schedule premised on the ‘two trains’ theory,” she wrote.

In fact, she noted, 27 to 33 trains come through that portion of the rails each day, one of the busiest in CSX’s system.

She also notes that the production was under pressure because of Hurt’s limited availability, with the Feb. 20 date originally scheduled as a pre-shoot but instead was turned into actual shooting of a dream sequence for the movie.

View Judge Calhoun’s decision in full here.

News of the decision was first reported by Deadline Hollywood.

More Film

  • A-Beautiful-Day-in-the-Neighborhood-Trailer

    Tom Hanks Channels Mister Rogers in 'Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood' Trailer

    It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood because Sony debuted the first trailer for its Mister Rogers movie starring Tom Hanks. “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is inspired by a real-life friendship between Fred Rogers (Hanks) and Tom Junod (Matthew Rhys), a cynical journalist assigned to write a profile of the long-running television host. [...]

  • For web story

    'The Burnt Orange Heresy,' With Mick Jagger and Donald Sutherland, to Close Venice

    “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” starring Mick Jagger as a reclusive art dealer alongside Elizabeth Debicki (“Widows”), Claes Bang (“The Square”) and Donald Sutherland, has been selected as the Venice Film Festival closer.  The English-language art heist movie marks Italian director Giuseppe Capotondi’s first time back at Venice since 2009, when his debut feature film, the [...]

  • A woman prays at a makeshift

    Kyoto Animation Death Toll Rises to 34; Suspect Still Too Injured to Be Questioned

    Shinji Aoba, the man suspected of setting a fire that killed 34 people at the Kyoto Animation studio, remains hospitalized and too injured to be officially arrested and questioned. Police in Kyoto have obtained an arrest warrant for Aoba but cannot serve it because of his condition. Police sources have raised the death toll from [...]

  • Azania Muendane

    Locations Africa Expo Sends Message in Durban: ‘Africa is Ready’

    DURBAN–The first edition of the Locations Africa Expo and Conference was held this week during the Durban FilmMart, with an eye toward identifying and growing the opportunities to lure incoming productions to the continent. “Locations Africa is trying to service a need on the continent to discuss the physical production…on the ground, highlighting film commissions, [...]

  • The Lion King

    China Box Office: 'Looking Up' Is Surprise Weekend Winner Ahead of 'Lion King'

    Actor and comedian Deng Chao underlined his enduring popularity with mainstream Chinese audiences by delivering a surprise No. 1 box-office hit in “Looking Up” over the weekend. It scored $38.6 million in its opening frame, according to data from consultancy Artisan Gateway, and displaced “The Lion King” from its perch. “Looking Up” is a family [...]

  • Unathi Malonga

    Report Urges South African Media to ‘Step Up’ Against Gender Violence

    DURBAN–In a country with some of the highest rates of sexual and gender-based violence in the world, South African media must step up and play a greater role in the fight against gender inequality and gender-based violence. That was the conclusion of a report, “Gender, Diversity and Gender-based Violence in South African TV,” that was [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content