Midnight Rider director Randall Miller, who two weeks ago pleaded guilty to criminal trespass and involuntary manslaughter in the on-set death of 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones, issued a statement tonight to the Associated Press — and subsequently obtained by Deadline — from his jail cell saying that he accepted responsibility for the accident that killed her and injured six others. His wife, Jody Savin, producer of Midnight Rider also issued a statement (see below).
Jones was killed on a Doctortown train trestle on Feb. 20, 2014 when Miller and supervising filmmakers criminally trespassed and brought their crew onto live train tracks and began shooting. The supervising filmmakers did not tell their crew that they had twice been denied permission by CSX to be on the tracks; they also had no safety meeting beforehand and no medic, nor railroad personnel present on set. The statement from Miller came after a damaging report on ABC’s 20/20 Friday night that interviewed police investigator Joe Gardner and prosecutor John Johnson which clearly spelled out that the supervising crew knew they had no permission and shot on the tracks anyway.
On the ABC report, Miller’s lawyer Ed Garland continued to defend his client just as he had done to the press immediately after Miller’s guilty plea when he said that the system failed his client. Johnson countered saying that the system the film industry already has for set safety just wasn’t followed. Miller was the co-writer, producer and director of Midnight Rider.
Here is Miller’s full statement in full, obtained by Deadline:
“On Feb 20th, 2014, a great number of mistakes were made and the terrible accident occurred which took Sarah Jones’ life. It was a horrible tragedy that will haunt me forever. Although I relied on my team, it is ultimately my responsibility and was my decision to shoot the scripted scene that caused this tragedy.
“I pleaded guilty for three reasons: first, to protect my wife and family; second, out of respect for the Jones family and to not put them through a difficult trial; and, third, to take responsibility for my failure in not knowing that every safety measure was in place.
“The location manager, the production designer, the unit production manager, the cinematographer, assistant director and others all made mistakes that led to this, but I have taken responsibility because I could have asked more questions, and I was the one in charge. I have worked in the film industry as a director for 25 years and never had a significant accident of any kind on any one of my sets.
“I am heartbroken over this. I hope my actions have spared the Jones family more anguish and that the on-set safety measures that were lacking before this terrible tragedy will now take precedence for all in the industry.”
To be fair, location manager Charles Baxter, in taped testimony that took place January 27, 2015, said “Randy (Miller) knew that I wasn’t going to go if he didn’t have permission … because he told me … that he was going to go down and film by the trestle whether they had permission from CSX or not.”
After the March 9th plea deal in a Georgia courtroom, Miller’s attorney Garland said his client “did not believe any more trains would be coming down the tracks,” but as the director, “he accepts full responsibility.” The case also ended in plea deals for unit production manager Jay Sedrish and first assistant director Hillary Schwartz, who ended up with probation but no jail time.
Under a plea agreement with prosecutors, Miller was sentenced to 10 years — two years in Wayne County jail, eight years probation — and must pay a $20,000 fine and also perform 360 hours of community service to be served in California. Under the terms of the probation, he also agreed not to serve as director, assistant director or supervisor in charge of safety on any film production for 10 years. With his sentencing, Miller became the first filmmaker in the history of the film business to go to prison for a film-related death.
As part of Miller’s deal, the case against his wife and Midnight Rider co-writer/producer Jody Savin was dismissed. His attorney Garland said at the time that Miller’s guilty plea was tied to the charges being dropped against his wife. “We wouldn’t be pleading guilty if they hadn’t indicted her,” he said. Savin, he said, “was completely innocent of any wrongdoing.”
On Feb. 16th, only four days before the death of Jones and the injury of six others, Savin addressed a meeting of the Savannah Women in Film and Television. During the hour-long talk, she complained about the previous Savannah Film Commissioner who took Miller and her to task for safety violations on a previous shoot. Savin told the group, “We make movies by our own rules.” Members of SWIFT were off put by her arrogance, so much so that they issued a statement afterwards saying they found Savin “unprofessional and disrespectful.”
Savin also issued a statement tonight:
“The accident, which took the life of Sarah Jones, has been tragic for everyone involved. Sarah’s family is broken, and ours too. Our children and I love Randy so much and are trying to be strong for him as he has been so strong and brave for us.”
After sentencing Miller, Judge Anthony Harrison said: “There is nothing this court could do to really bring justice to this case. This is a tragic accident … that could have been prevented.”