EXCLUSIVE: Midnight Rider location manager Charles Baxter today denied having anything to do with the railroad trestle shoot on the set of the Gregg Allman biopic, which was the setting of the February 20 death of 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones. In fact, in a court filing made by his lawyer Kirk Schroeder on Friday (read it here), Baxter revealed publicly for the first time that he was unable to get permission from property owner CSX to conduct filming on the trestle. Baxter also added that he did not plan to film on active railroad tracks and that he was not present at the shoot where Jones was killed and other crew members injured. The Georgia-based location manager denies retaining responsibility for selecting shooting locations. He is also seeking an out of recovery due to workers’ compensation laws, saying all the injuries sustained were due to other people’s actions, not his.
That is only a portion of the details that have come to light in the number of court filings in the past week in the civil suit brought against the filmmakers, production companies and distributor Open Road Films by Jones’ parents Richard and Elizabeth Jones.
In another court filing, Don Mandrik, who owns Georgia Production Finance, is denying all legal liability. He said he was not there when the tragedy happened and goes on to blame Sarah Jones for her own death, saying she failed to take safety precautions. Specifically, in trying to get the claims barred, he states: “Ms. Jones did not exercise ordinary care for her own safety and assumed the risk of injury” and “the negligence of Ms. Jones exceeded negligence of any other party who may have caused or contributed to cause the accident.” (Read his filing here.)
In addition, Christopher Palmer, who has worked in risk management for 28 years, said in an affidavit filed with the court (read it here) that Open Road Films’ distribution rights acquisition agreement included the distributor’s right for casting approval for Gregg and Duane Allman and mutual approval over final cut with the producer of the film, and that director Randall Miller‘s role as “an essential element” of the agreement means that “Open Road would be under no obligation of the completed film if Miller did not serve as director.”
Palmer states in the court filing that he helped to secure insurance on such film and TV projects as X-Men, O Brother, Where Art Thou? Sahara, Fly Boys, The Thin Red Line, The Legend of Bagger Vance and the HBO dramas Deadwood and Six Feet Under. He said that distributors have varying agreements and level of involvement with film productions.
His filing also says that the distribution agreement “does not indicate whether Open Road exercised any operational control over the production of Midnight Rider,” nor does it specify whether the distributor “upon reviewing and approving the script … inquired into and/or reviewed the safety protocols.”
Open Road has tried to remove itself from the lawsuit as well. In a statement issued in May, the Delaware-based company denied direct involvement in the production, insisting that “we have been named in this suit without justification.” In August, it filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the company doesn’t fall under the Georgia court’s jurisdiction and additionally had “no causal connection” to the accident. That filing prompted the Jones family to issue their own response earlier this month, urging the court to deny Open Road’s request for dismissal.