EXCLUSIVE: Criminal charges have been filed against Midnight Rider first assistant director Hillary Schwartz in the February 20 death of camera assistant Sarah Jones. Schwartz was charged September 10 with involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass, the same two counts filed against director Randall Miller and producers Jody Savin and Jay Sedrish. Under Georgia law, a manslaughter conviction would carry a sentence of 10 years in prison. Criminal trespass is a misdemeanor and carries a potential sentence of one year.
This will come as no surprise to Hollywood’s production community, who understand that one responsibility of the 1st AD is to help keep the crew safe on set. Schwartz was on set the day of the accident, though location manager Charley Baxter refused to show up because the production had not obtained permission to access the train tracks and made his opposition known to several crew members before the shoot.
In addition to Jones, several others on the shoot were injured. The Gregg Allman biopic was to be distributed in the U.S. by Open Road Films. Production was shut down following the accident, and attempts to restart the shoot in LA were rebuffed.
The filmmakers are engaged in multiple legal entanglements. The tragedy also prompted a civil suit brought by Richard and Elizabeth Jones, the parents of the young camera assistant, against all parties. That suit has prompted responses from Miller, Savin, Open Road, landowner Rayonier, railroad company CSX, executive producer Jeffrey Gant, Meddin Studios, and Baxter distancing themselves from legal liability.
OSHA also charged the production company Film Allman (the concern set up by Miller and Savin to produce the film) with “one willful and one serious safety violation” that carried a fine of $74,000, which the company is currently contesting.
Schwartz, who worked on The Italian Job, We Are Marshall, Disney’s John Carter, and TV’s Franklin And Bash and The Bridge, was employed as the 1st AD on the Midnight Rider production. She worked previously with Miller and Savin as 1st AD on their 2013 film CBGB, which drew a number of safety concerns during filming in Savannah, GA.
Jones was killed after freight train plowed into metal bed placed on the tracks sending debris flying on the first day of filming. The film’s crew members were on the tracks of the Doctortown train trestle for the shoot by Unclaimed Freight Productions Inc., the production company owned by Miller and Savin. A special status conference is being held tomorrow in the Superior Court of Wayne County.