‘Midnight Rider’ Filmmakers Raise Doubts About Trespass Charges With New Evidence

Midnight Rider” director Randall Miller and producer Jody Savin’s Film Allman are pointing to a newly discovered email to show that they were not expressly denied permission to shoot on a CSX trestle on Feb. 20, 2014, when a train plowed through their shooting location and killed a camera assistant, Sarah Jones, and injured eight others.

The email was included in Film Allman’s motion to amend its complaint in its lawsuit against insurer New York Marine, which denied its claim for the losses after the movie shut down. The insurer based its denial by citing a clause that it would not pay for losses caused by criminal acts.

In the aftermath, Miller was sentenced to two years in Wayne County Jail in Jesup, Ga., after he reached a plea agreement for charges of criminal trespass and involuntary manslaughter. He was released in March after serving one year.

In a filing with U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Thursday, Miller and Savin’s production company are pointing to an email from a CSX Corp. executive to raise doubts about the claim that the railroad explicitly denied them permission to be on the train tracks and trestle.

The email is from CSX’s Carla Groleau at 10:48 a.m. on the morning of Feb. 20, and it simply says, “Groleau, Carla would like to recall the message, ‘CSX.'” It was sent to Charley Baxter, the location manager on “Midnight Rider,” and Tina Kicklighter, a representative of Rayonier Performance Fibers, which owns the land around the tracks and did give the production permission to shoot on its property.

The message that was recalled was cited by prosecutors as proof that the producers of “Midnight Rider” were denied permission to be on the tracks. The email, sent at 10:47 a.m., stated that CSX was “not able to support your request.” According to the latest filing from Film Allman, the “recall” email was produced by Rayonier during the discovery process of separate litigation that was brought by Jones’ family. That case was settled.

Film Allman is citing other evidence in their case against the insurer. They contend that the attorney that New York Marine hired to represent them in the Jones’ litigation, Matthew Stone, had a conflict because he had represented CSX “at least dozens of times.”

According to the filmmakers’ latest filing, Stone “failed to advise” them that he had the “recall” email, and only produced it in response to a subpoena during the discovery process of the insurance case. They also claim that Stone produced video from the train during the accident, even though he had testified that he has never received video with the locomotive recorder data.

What’s unclear is whether Baxter, the location manager, forwarded the “recall” email to Miller, Savin or other members of the crew. He did forward Groleau’s original email to Miller, Savin, executive producer Jay Sedrish, first assistant director Hillary Schwartz and others, according to a Occupational Safety and Health Commission opinion. Baxter said that he discussed the e-mail with Schwartz, Sedrish and production designer Missy Stewart, and that after they looked at it “we were like, ‘Oh, well, there you go.'”

Film Allman points also to a deposition of John Johnson, the Wayne County prosecutor who indicted Miller and Savin, in which he said that CSX and Rayonier “had an agreement” to allow Rayonier to conduct certain operations on the tracks. Film Allman contends that the “existence of such agreement would have been useful in both the civil and criminal defenses defeating the trespassing allegations.”

“New York Marine knew or should have known that Rayonier knew that CSX had not expressly denied permission to shoot on its tracks, but failed to advise Miller, Savin or Film Allman of this fact, even though they asked for it,” Film Allman said in its filing.

A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 7 in New York Marine’s motion for partial summary judgment.

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