The involuntary manslaughter guilty plea made today by Midnight Rider director Randall Miller in the on-set death of 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones is a historic first. Miller, who this morning was taken out of the court and booked for criminal trespass and involuntary manslaughter in the jail that sits adjacent to the Wayne County courthouse, will be the first filmmaker to go to prison for a film-related death.
In fact, in the 100 years between the death of Jones and the first production-related death — in 1914, when 16-year-old actress Grace McHugh drowned and cameraman Owen Carter died trying to rescue her while filming a scene for the movie Across The Border – more than 80 people have died in 52 fatal accidents while filming in the U.S. Two cases resulted in indictments, but none of those were convicted. The Midnight Rider case has changed that.
Miller’s lawyer Ed Garland believes his client will likely only serve a year of the two-year sentence he received.
The last time a manslaughter case went before a jury was nearly 30 years ago, in the infamous Twilight Zone case, but that ended in acquittals of director John Landis and four other co-defendants.
Prior to the that case, the last time anyone was prosecuted for a film-set death was in 1929, when 10 people were killed, including four young chorus girls, when a fire swept through the Pathé Film Studio in Manhattan. Production manager Harry Lalley and John C. Flinn, the studio’s vice president, were arrested and indicted on charges of second-degree manslaughter after it was discovered that the sound stages had no sprinkler system, as required by the city’s fire ordinance. Those indictments were later dismissed by the New York Court of Appeals.