Rail company CSX has taken heat for failing to provide footage from a fourth train that traversed the Doctortown trestle the afternoon of the fatal accident that killed Midnight Rider camera assistant Sarah Jones. But in a court filing this week the company explained they aren’t hiding anything – because they don’t even have the so-called “missing tape.”
Deflecting another volley in the ongoing wrongful death civil case brought by Jones’ parents, CSX revealed the timeline of the three CSX trains that passed the site of the collision before a fourth locomotive struck equipment and a hospital bed the crew had set up on the tracks in rural Georgia. (Read the CSX response here.) Jones was killed and several others injured when train Q12519 hit, while others made narrow escapes off the train bridge with only seconds to spare.
According to CSX, a total of three trains – and not two, as initially reported internally to CSX investigators – hurtled across the Doctortown train trestle the afternoon of February 20. CSX records piece together the timeline of events as Midnight Rider director Randall Miller and his crew arrived on the scene, waited for trains to pass, and accessed the trestle.
However, CSX only has recorded data on the first, third, and fourth train. Train 1 passed at 2:01 PM, when CSX says footage does not show any crew present in the immediate area. Train 3 passed at 3:36 PM. The fourth fatal train struck at 4:25 PM. All three videos were later obtained by the Jones family lawyers.
So where’s the missing footage from the second train? Lost to CSX’s internal miscommunication, the company explained. They say when they launched their probe the day of the accident, a CSX dispatcher initially misidentified only two trains preceding the impact train. Five days later, a CSX Event Log revealed that a fourth train had come through at 3:28 PM, eight minutes before the third train. By then it was too late to preserve that train’s camera footage.
“Q03220 was not identified by the dispatcher and thus the LDVR video from that train was not downloaded,” CSX explained. “However, that train passed through the Doctortown area 8 minutes before Q49220 and we anticipate that there will be witness confirmation that the scene shown in the Q03220 LDVR video was not materially different from what was present 8 minutes earlier.”
In Tuesday’s filing, CSX downplayed the significance of the missing footage: “The inadvertent failure to retrieve the LDVR (from the third train)… is not nearly the issue Plaintiff has tried to make it.” CSX also argue that their missing train footage is not as pivotal as the Jones’ lawyers suggest, since Midnight Rider‘s film crew took their own photos and video footage leading up to the accident that the court can reference.
The company also asked the court to disallow the Jones camp from demanding access to site photographs taken by CSX’s own risk management the night of the accident since they already have access to similar photos taken by Wayne County Sheriff’s Office the same night.
The question remains as to what train personnel passing through prior to the 4:25 PM accident saw, and if they took proper safety precautions or alerted CSX or authorities if Midnight Rider‘s crew was spotted near CSX-owned tracks.
A settlement with director Miller, producer Jody Savin, exec producer/unit production manager Jay Sedrish, and several other co-defendants last month left CSX the biggest — and most contentious — party remaining in the civil suit. Meanwhile, Miller, Savin, Sedrish, and 1st assistant director Hillary Schwartz are facing separate criminal charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass. A trial has been set for March 9.
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