UPDATE, 9:44 AM: Film Allman LLC lawyers continued this morning in federal court in Savannah, GA arguing against the OSHA citations and $74,900 in fines. This has really become a mini-trial about whether Midnight Rider filmmakers intentionally put their crew in jeopardy on February 20, 2014 when they criminally trespassed on a Doctortown train trestle to place a metal hospital bed perpendicular on the tracks and shot a scene.
That action resulted in the death of 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones and injuries to six others. Midnight Rider co-writer/producer/director Randall Miller has been in attendance this week (which gives him a daily reprieve from sitting in jail) in a trial that is now expected to last through Friday.
However, we learned that there are two people in Los Angeles whose depositions have not yet been taken and at the end of this hearing, there will be no decision from the judge until those are heard. That will come sometime after those depos are taken later this month if lawyers for Film Allman LLC don’t fold beforehand.
At any time, the lawyers can stop the proceedings and accept the fine and citation of $74,900. Until then, there will be ongoing examine and cross-examination of those involved in the production and investigation.
Weighing the legal bills to fight for a week (and longer) against the fine seems financially at odds. It’s unclear why they are fighting so vigorously to defend themselves as Miller has already pled guilty for criminal trespass and involuntary manslaughter in the death of Jones in exchange for the dismissal of charges against Savin, his wife, who did not attend yesterday’s hearing. With the dismissal, she can continue to work at the couple’s production company which is based in Pasadena.
Miller is currently serving a two-year jail sentence and then eight years probation.
Yesterday, after opening arguments with lawyers on both sides talking about intent, Miller’s lawyer Don Samuels argued that Miller himself could have been killed and he had no reason to think that they would be in danger.
Midnight Rider‘s location manager Charlie Baxter took the stand as did hairstylist Joyce Gilliard. According to one person who attended the hearing, Baxter reiterated what he had already said to various investigators, testifying that it was his understanding they did not have permission to be on the train track. He testified that he relayed the denial of permission from CSX to the supervising crew members. He said he knew Miller was going to try to get the shot anyway and he didn’t want to be a party to it so he didn’t go to the shoot that day out of protest.
PREVIOUS, TUESDAY AM: Lawyers for Film Allman arrived in federal court today in Savannah, GA to contest a safety violation and fine imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration regarding the Midnight Rider set accident that resulted in the death of 27 year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones. The production company Film Allman, LLC was set up by director/producer/co-writer Randall Miller and producer/co-writer Jody Savin to film the biopic based on rocker Gregg Allman. Lawyers for the company are vigorously contesting terms of the citation and the $74,900 in fines for “one willful and one serious safety violation” which OSHA slapped them with last year.
“Everyone thought they would accept the fine, but the lawyers are fighting it,” said one person with knowledge of the proceedings, which could last until Thursday.
Interestingly, they are contesting the OSHA violation despite the fact that three of the four supervising crew members plead guilty to being on the train trestle illegally. Several investigators have been subpoenaed and are testifying this week.
Specifically, the OSHA report found that the film crew had been working on a live railroad track “without any safety procedures established such as securing the track from any type of train traffic in the area or having a plan that would allow ample time for everyone to exit the trestle with all of their equipment and props. This exposed employees to a hazard of being struck by a train traveling on the tracks.”
A subsequent NTSB report states: “NTSB investigators were told during interviews with film staff that there was a discussion about CSX’s email on the morning of the accident. In an interview, the location manager stated that he informed the producer, the director, the writer, and the first-assistant director about CSX’s denial of permission for filming on the railroad property. Furthermore, the location manager said that the director insisted that filming would proceed despite CSX’s denial of permission. As a result, the location manager refused to participate in the film shoot; although he could not prohibit the film crew from working.”
Miller pled guilty to criminal trespass and involuntary manslaughter in the death of Jones in exchange for the dismissal of charges against Savin, his wife. The film’s unit production manager Jay Sedrish and first assistant director Hillary Schwartz were also convicted this month on the charges. Miller is serving a two-year jail sentence and then eight years probation. Charges against Savin were dismissed. Sedrish and Schwartz were released on 10 years probation.
The trial, which started today, will continue through April 3, at which time a judge will decide whether the OSHA violation and fine will hold or be tossed out. The case is known as Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez vs. Film Allman, LLC.