The producers of Midnight Rider will fight federal charges that they committed workplace safety violations in the February 20 accident that killed 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones. Production company Film Allman, set up by director Randall Miller and producer Jody Savin for the Gregg Allman biopic, was slapped with an OSHA fine of $74,900 last month for “one willful and one serious safety violation” in the tragedy. They had until today to pay or dispute the charges. Today the filmmakers issued a notice of contest for both violations and the fine, a Department of Labor rep tells Deadline.
This is just the latest legal tangle for Miller and Savin. Along with producer Jay Sedrish, the filmmakers were each charged with involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing by prosecutors in Wayne County, GA. All three pleaded not guilty. They’re also named among a litany of co-defendants in a wrongful death civil suit filed in May by Sarah Jones’ parents, Richard and Elizabeth Jones.
“Employers are responsible for taking the necessary precautions to protect workers’ health and safety, and the entertainment industry is no exception,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels in the August 14 Department of Labor citation. “It is unacceptable that Film Allman LLC knowingly exposed their crew to moving trains while filming on a live track and railroad trestle.”
Jones died on the first day of filming when a freight train barrelled into equipment and a hospital bed that the film’s crew had set on train tracks. Filmmakers had been denied permission to be on the tracks, according to railroad owner CSX. The accident injured several others including Miller, who claimed in an August lawsuit that his physical and post-traumatic injuries warranted a $1.6 million payout from the film’s insurer.
The OSHA citation accuses the production of “failure to provide safety measures to protect employees from moving trains” with “intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.” It includes the more serious charge of exposing crew members to hazards while working on the train trestle where the collision occurred. “While we have yet to see the full report, OSHA’s findings confirm that Sarah’s death was avoidable if common sense safety precautions and actions had been followed,” said Jones’ parents through their lawyer in a statement last month. “It also confirms that safety was not the first priority on the set of Midnight Rider and that willful ignorance put Sarah — and others — at risk.” The OSHA Review Commission will next file an official complaint before the case goes in front of a judge. Lawyers for Film Allman could not be reached for comment.