‘Midnight Rider’: Judge Refuses to Ban Release of Accident Video

Midnight Rider Doctortown Trestle Sarah Jones
Mike McCall for Variety

A judge in Chatham County, Ga., has denied CSX Transportation’s effort to restrict the further dissemination of a Feb. 20 video of the accident on the set of “Midnight Rider.”

Judge Gregory Sapp issued his order on Tuesday, according to the Chatham Court website.

The video — taken from a CSX train that came unexpectedly as filmmakers were shooting on the tracks near Jesup, Ga. — already has been shown on ABC News’ “20/20.”

CSX contended that it released the video to attorneys for the family of Sarah Jones, the camera assistant who was killed in the accident, but did not agree to its wider dissemination. They claim that the attorneys violated a license agreement required by the video software provider, GE.

But attorneys for the Jones family at the firm of Harris Penn Lowry argued that the video was entered into the public record and that they did not violate the terms of the license agreement. They say CSX should have entered a protective order if it did not want the video released.

The video shows the crew of the film scrambling to get out of the way as the train approaches a trestle.

The Jones family named CSX as one of 17 defendants in a civil suit filed in May. The family has since settled their claims with most of the defendants, including director Randall Miller and producer Jody Savin, but they have not settled with CSX.

Update: In his decision, Sapp wrote that “to the extent CSX argues that the plaintiffs and/or their attorneys have violated a licensing agreement with GE, this is GE’s argument to raise, not CSX’s argument.”

Sapp also denied CSX’s motion to restrict Jeffrey Harris and other Harris Penn Lowry attorneys from commenting on the case, ruling that the court already “expects all counsel appearing in this court to abide by the rules of professionalism that govern attorney conduct.” He warned attorneys of “unnecessary or inappropriate publicity which might taint the potential jury pool for this case” and wrote that “all parties would be wise to consider these caveats while on the record and while addressing third-parties or the general public in every case.”

There also has been a dispute over another locomotive video, which has gone missing. Sapp ordered CSX to produce “sworn, specific testimony verifying any and all steps to locate the missing data.” The court also may allow Jones family attorneys to conduct a forensic analysis of hard drives or any data storage systems.

“CSX shall also be required to produce any missing dispatcher recordings or otherwise provide similar testimony regarding the specific steps taken to collect these recordings, the individuals who took these steps and the dates and times the actions were taken,” Sapp wrote.

An issue in the case is whether CSX could have taken more steps to prevent the accident, and the extent to which they had knowledge that a film crew would be shooting in the area.