UPDATE, 4:00PM: A lawyer for the parents of fallen Midnight Rider crew member Sarah Jones criticized rail company CSX’s attempt to deflect blame onto their daughter, the 27-year-old camera assistant who was killed in a February 20 train collision in rural Georgia. In a cross claim against producers Randall Miller, Jody Savin, and Jay Sedrish filed this week, CSX denied its own negligence in the accident, saying Jones “voluntarily exposed herself to risks” and failed to protect her own safety in the events leading up to the tragedy. She was killed and several other crew members were injured when a freight train barreled into equipment and a hospital bed that had been set up on CSX-owned train tracks on the first day of filming.
“CSX’s attempt to blame Sarah for causing her own death is, unfortunately, not surprising given the Defendants’ behavior to date,” said a statement issued by the Jones family lawyer, Jeffrey Harris. “The fact is, while the Defendants have differing accounts as to what happened on February 20th, one thing is abundantly clear — Sarah had no knowledge of the imminent danger awaiting her when she went to work that morning.
“To the contrary,” he continued, “she believed those in charge of the Midnight Rider production had taken the appropriate safety precautions and secured permission to film on the railroad tracks. It would also be reasonable to trust that CSX would follow its own safety measures by notifying its train operators that a film crew was setting up next to their tracks. The tragic truth is, the Defendants failed to live up to their obligations. Richard and Elizabeth Jones have been clear in their motivation behind this legal action. First, to obtain truthful answers as to what happened that day and, second, to ensure no one else — in this industry their daughter loved so very much — is ever put in danger on a film set again. Safety for Sarah.”
PREVIOUS, WEDNESDAY 1:12 PM: Railroad company CSX filed a cross claim earlier this week in Chatham County, GA, accusing Midnight Rider producers of intentionally trespassing on CSX property in the February 20 tragedy that killed camera assistant Sarah Jones. “CSXT denies that it had prior knowledge that the Midnight Rider cast and film crew or their equipment were or would be on its tracks or trestle,” the company said in its claim against Randall Miller, Jody Savin, Jay Sedrish, and the filmmakers’ Unclaimed Freight production company.
Seeking unspecified punitive damages, CSX slams the filmmakers who they say have “displayed in the past similar willful misconduct, wantonness, and a conscious indifference to the consequences of their actions.”
The cross claim was added to a May 21 wrongful death civil suit filed by Jones’ parents, Richard and Elizabeth Jones, on behalf of their daughter’s estate. In that lawsuit the family named 18 defendants, including CSX, as responsible for the train accident that left the 27-year-old Jones dead and injured several other crew members.
Miller, Savin, and Sedrish were each charged with involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing in July by prosecutors in Wayne County, GA. All three have pleaded not guilty. The criminal charges carry a potential sentence of 10 years in prison for the involuntary manslaughter charge and one year for the trespassing charge.
In its claim, CSX says filmmakers were trespassing on their property at the time of the tragedy. While it does not own the surrounding land, CSX owns the tracks and trestle at the Doctortown landing overlooking the Altamaha River. The crew of Miller’s Gregg Allman biopic had set up camera equipment and a hospital bed on the tracks of the train trestle in order to film scenes on the first day of production. According to CSX, the Midnight Rider filmmakers had been denied permission to be on their property.
Also named in the massive list of defendants in the original Jones family lawsuit is paper mill company Rayonier, which owns the land near the Doctortown site and granted the film crew access to that land for filming.
Meanwhile, executive producer Nick Gant, whose Savannah-based Meddin Studios served as the production hub on Midnight Rider and was also named in the Jones family suit, recently signed a deal to sell the business to local art school Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last summer.
A federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor resulted in an OSHA citation for “one willful and one serious safety violation,” issued last month. Film Allman has yet to settle or contest the $74,900 fine.
Variety first reported the CSX filing.