William Hurt says he had an odd feeling when they got on the Doctortown train trestle on the first day of filming Midnight Rider but trusted first assistant director Hillary Schwartz when she said they were safe. But what happened after that was a complete nightmare, he told Canadian Press this morning. Sarah Jones, a 27-year-old camera assistant, was killed when a train plowed into the props lying perpendicular on the tracks.
Randall Miller, Jay Sedrish and Schwartz were all convicted of criminal trespassing and involuntary manslaughter in her death. Sedrish and Schwartz only got probation. Miller got two years in jail and eight years probation.
Hurt was on the tracks when the train approached. In his own words to the CP today:
“I just had an unsettled feeling from the very time I got there. I stopped everything and I said in front of everybody, I said, ‘Stop.’ And I asked (assistant director) Hillary (Schwartz) in front of the whole crowd, ‘Are we safe?’ Because it’s her job as the first AD to tell us that. She said, ‘Yes.’”
When asked how much time they had to get off the tracks, he was told it would be 60 seconds.
“And I said in front of everybody, ‘Sixty seconds is not enough time to get these people and this equipment off this bridge. There’s just no way.’ And then I looked around, thinking that the rest of the crew, who had all worked with her before … would say something. And they didn’t. They just started shambling back to work. And I thought, ‘Well that’s their vote. They trust her.’ So we went to work.” (What came out of the federal investigation was that the crewmembers were not aware that the production had twice been denied access to the trestle and they were in fact criminally trespassing.)
Schwartz then yelled that a train was approaching.
“I was barefoot and I turned around, I twisted my head and I said, ‘Someone’s going to die now. I tried to yank the bed up, my feet were getting clobbered by the splinters in the ties. I couldn’t move the bed at all, I just started screaming, ‘You can’t stop it, you can’t stop it, you can’t stop it, you can’t stop it.’ And I picked my way across the ties, trying not to fall to impede people climbing over me who were trying to escape, too.
“And then I got into the rocks which were razor sharp and I turned and I’m going, ‘Oh, Jesus God.’ I’m looking at them, I was only a few feet away from the train and I saw them, I felt the wind buffered and I just covered my eyes and started screaming ‘No, no, no, no, no, no.’ ”
“It’s the sorrow of my professional life and one of the great sorrows of my personal life. It was simply impossible to imagine anything like that could happen. The one other thing I could have done was say, ‘This isn’t good enough for me, I’m walking off the set.’ But it was our very, very first day with a crew that had worked together before,” he says. “You can always imagine what you could have done.”