UPDATED, 10:44 AM: OSHA just released a statement about the ruling today from Judge Sharon D. Calhoun of the OSHA review commission that handed a defeat to Film Allman and the defendants fighting the safety citations and fine on the set of Midnight Rider. The statement from Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA’s regional administrator for the Southeast, says: “Bad management decisions have real and lasting consequences, and when those decisions involve safety, the consequences can be tragic. The death of Sarah Jones is particularly disheartening because it was entirely preventable. Film Allman’s management blatantly disregarded their obligation to ensure the safety of their crew and cast. They were fully aware that the railroad tracks were live, and that they did not have permission to film there. While yesterday’s decision cannot correct or reverse the terrible events of February 2014, we hope that it will serve as a reminder to the film industry that safety has an important, necessary role on every set and in every workplace.”
EXCLUSIVE: PREVIOUSLY, 6:25 AM: A federal court has upheld the Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety violations and fine levied against production company Film Allman, LLC, which was set up by director/producer/co-writer Randall Miller and producer/co-writer Jody Savin to make the Gregg Allman biopic Midnight Rider. Their actions led to the death of 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones and the injury to eight others on Feb. 20, 2014 as they filmed, without permission and ignoring safety procedures, a scene on a live railroad trestle.
The latest ruling follows a mini-trial in March and April where Film Allman attorneys fought vigorously against OSHA’s citation of “one willful and one serious safety violation” in the on-set death. Film Allman must now pay $74,900 in fines. The case was known as Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez vs. Film Allman, LLC.
The decision was handed down late Tuesday by the federal court hearing the case in Savannah, GA. It will be 10 days before the ruling will be made public. The defendants had disputed the safety violation citations prior to guilty pleas by Miller and his supervising crew unit production manager Jay Sedrish and first assistant director Hillary Schwartz to criminal trespassing and involuntary manslaughter in the death of Jones. They all admitted in a Georgia court to illegally trespassing on a live train track.
The OSHA report said specifically that they had been working on the live track “without any safety procedures established such as securing the track from any type of train traffic in the area or having a plan that would allow ample time for everyone to exit the trestle with all of their equipment and props. This exposed employees to a hazard of being struck by a train traveling on the tracks.” The report also found that the producers had not obtained permission from CSX, the owner of the train trestle they were filming on, to be on the tracks. CSX specifically denied permission via email to the filmmakers more than once.
NTSB investigators were told during interviews with film staff “that there was a discussion about CSX’s email on the morning of the accident.” The NTSB also interviewed location manager Charles Baxter, who stated that he informed Savin, Miller, and Schwartz “about CSX’s denial of permission for filming on the railroad property.” Baxter told the NTSB that Miller said that filming would proceed anyway which prompted Baxter to refuse to participate in the shoot. The rest of the crew were kept in the dark and thought they were safe to shoot when they were told to set up on the train trestle. After two trains went by, Miller motioned the crew onto the Doctortown trestle.
According to documents obtained by Deadline through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Federal Railroad Administration report stated that the accident happened at approximately 5:30 PM EST. The investigation also seems to indicate that someone saw the crew and reported them. Deadline was told by the FRA that in order to get to Central Train Dispatch (CTD), whomever said they saw the crew would have had to have been railroad personnel or someone who reported it to railroad personnel. The report states:
The Jacksonville CTD advised there were about 15 teenagers on the rail bridge, some of whom were carrying a mattress. Upon arrival, it was confirmed that the persons that had been on the railroad trestle were not children, but were adult members of a film crew that were setting up to film the movie (Night Rider) on the trestle.
Savin was criminally charged, but her charges were dismissed. Her husband Miller is currently serving a two-year jail sentence and followed by 8 years on probation. Savin escaped free and clear and is able to continue to work in the industry. Sedrish and Schwartz were released on 10 years probation. Despite pleading guilty to criminal charges and also found in violation of federal OSHA safety regulations, Miller, Sedrish and Schwartz are still members of the Directors Guild of America.