Trespassing by 'Midnight Rider' crew probably caused train death, NTSB finds

Fatal train accident on 'Midnight Rider' set: Crew's trespassing was the probable cause, safety officials find

The fatal train accident on the set of “Midnight Rider” last year was probably caused by the film crew’s trespassing on a railroad bridge, federal safety officials announced Tuesday.

Assistant camera operator Sarah Jones, 27, was killed in a freight train accident Feb. 20, 2014, during filming of the Gregg Allman biopic near Savannah, Ga. The film's director was sentenced this month to serve jail time.

The train hit a prop that was on the tracks, and debris flew, hitting Jones and other crew members, the National Transportation Safety Board said in its preliminary report. Half a dozen crew members were taken to hospitals with injuries, it said.

CSX Transportation, the railroad company, had repeatedly denied the filmmakers permission to film on the bridge or tracks, the NTSB report found.

The decision to use the bridge anyway caused conflict among members of the film production, according to the report.

According to the film’s location manager, “the director insisted that filming would proceed despite CSX’s denial of permission,” the report said. “As a result, the location manager refused to participate in the film shoot.”

The report also said owners of adjacent properties contributed to the accident by helping the film crew access the site.

Jones' death sparked an outpouring of concern among many people in the entertainment  industry, many of whom have advocated for better safety on sets in wake of the accident. Last year, Jones' friends and family launched a "Slates for Sarah" social media campaign to honor her life and bring attention to the issue. Crew members from across the globe posted comments and pictures of Jones' name written on film slates on Facebook and Twitter.

Earlier this month, "Midnight Rider" director Randall Miller pleaded guilty to charges related to Jones' death. He will serve a sentence as long as two years in the Wayne County Detention Center in Jesup, Ga. As part of the plea deal, charges against Miller's wife and business partner, Jody Savin, were dropped.

The film's assistant director, Hillary Schwartz, was sentenced to 10 years' probation after being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass. Jay Sedrish, the executive producer, was also sentenced to 10 years' probation.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

6:09 p.m.: This article has been updated with additional details from the NTSB report.

The first version of this article was published at 5:15 p.m.

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