John Bernecker, a stuntman on AMC's popular show "The Walking Dead," has died from injuries suffered on the show's set in Georgia, in the latest tragedy to strike a film set mid-project.
After a Wednesday afternoon fall, Bernecker, 33, was flown to the Atlanta Medical Center, where he died at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Coweta County Coroner Richard Hawk said Friday. The death, from blunt force trauma, was ruled accidental, Hawk said. Bernecker reportedly fell more than 20 feet from a balcony onto a concrete floor, suffering a head injury.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and SAG-AFTRA have both opened investigations into the circumstances surrounding Bernecker's death.
“As always, the safety and security of our members and others on set is of crucial concern to us and we are focused on this in our investigation,” SAG-AFTRA said in a statement.
AMC Networks has temporarily stopped production on the show, which is filming its eighth season.
“We are deeply saddened by this loss and our hearts and prayers are with John’s family, friends and colleagues during this extremely difficult time,” AMC said in a statement Friday.
Bernecker had an extensive career as a stunt performer, appearing in recent films including “Get Out,” “Logan” and “The Fate of the Furious.”
“Our production is heartbroken by the tragic loss of John Bernecker. John's work on ‘The Walking Dead’ and dozens of other movies and shows will continue to entertain and excite audiences for generations,” said Scott M. Gimple, executive producer of “The Walking Dead.” “We are grateful for his contributions, and all of us send our condolences, love, and prayers to John's family and friends.”
Though fatalities are rare, stunt work is inherently dangerous. In 1996, a stunt performer was killed in Sun Valley from a fall while performing a stunt for a TV show. And in 2002 an actor died in parachute jump in Pismo Beach during filming of the movie “Tears of the Sun.”
Film and TV-related deaths declined in the 1990s and early 2000s, thanks to ramped-up safety efforts by studios and production companies, plus the rise of digital effects replacing physical stunts.
However, a 2015 Times report revealed an increased number of fatalities during filming in recent years, with some industry experts blaming the need to get increasingly dramatic footage to stay competitive, especially in reality TV.
Locally, three people died in a 2013 helicopter crash in Acton during filming of a Discovery Channel military show, for example. A chopper collision in 2015 claimed 10 lives in Argentina during filming of an unscripted action adventure show.
Bernecker’s death marks the second film-set fatality in Georgia in recent years. The Gregg Allman biopic, "Midnight Rider," was filming in Georgia when a 2014 train accident killed crew member Sarah Jones and injured seven others. The film's director, Randall Miller, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in 2015 and was given a two-year prison sentence. Prosecutors said the filmmakers had skirted basic safety rules while filming.
Jones' parents are currently embroiled in a civil trial with railroad company CSX over charges of negligence with regard to her death. Proceedings are underway at the Chatham County Courthouse in Savannah, Ga.
In South Africa, a crew member on the set of “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” suffered deadly injuries during filming in December 2015. Ricardo Cornelius died from injuries suffered when a U.S. Army Hummer slipped while a team was manually rotating it and pinned Cornelius beneath it.
That was after stuntwoman Olivia Jackson suffered extensive injuries during the filming of “Resident Evil” in September 2015. Jackson’s injuries included a severed artery in her neck, several nerves torn from her spinal column and arm injuries so severe it led to eventual amputation. She spent two weeks in a medically induced coma.
"The Walking Dead" has filmed in Georgia since the show's inception in 2010. The state's generous tax incentives have lured an influx of Hollywood film and television productions.
There are more than three dozen projects currently filming in Georgia, according to the state website, including the television series "The Gospel of Kevin" and "Halt and Catch Fire," as well as the feature film "Godzilla: King of the Monsters."
Staff writer Christie D'Zurilla contributed to this report.
9:15 p.m.: This article was updated with statements from AMC Networks and “Walking Dead” executive producer Scott M. Gimple.
This article was originally published at 3:20 p.m.