A 27-year-old member of a crew filming a biopic about Southern rock musician Gregg Allman was struck and killed by freight train this week in southeast Georgia.
Investigators Friday were collecting video, emails and statements to figure out who might be at fault in the death of a 27-year-old second camera assistant Sarah Elizabeth Jones of Atlanta. Jones was struck and killed Thursday afternoon by a freight train roaring along a bridge where the biopic was being filmed.
Seven other crew members were treated at a hospital for injuries suffered on the 110-year-old trestle above the Altamaha River in Wayne County.
Open Road Films, the film’s U.S. distributor; Unclaimed Freight, the Pasadena company producing the film; and the Georgia-based Meddin Studios film crew had permission from the railroad operator to film “Midnight Rider” near the railroad tracks, but they did not have permission to be on it, authorities said.
“I do believe there is going to be an issue about whether they had permission to be on the tracks,” Wayne County Sheriff’s Det. Joe Gardner told the Los Angeles Times.
Variety reported that the film crew had been provided a train schedule by CSX and had paused for two expected trains. A third train caught them by surprise and sent people scrambling, Variety reported.
Gardner said he was still waiting to receive copies of the correspondence between CSX and the filmmakers.
Officials at both CSX and the production company declined to answer questions regarding the filming or details about the train, including its speed. The train was traveling from Memphis, Tenn., to Savannah, Ga.
“CSX is deeply saddened by the tragedy on a CSX rail bridge in Doctortown, Ga., and continues to cooperate fully with authorities,” CSX spokeswoman Kristin Seay said in a statement about the train.
“All of us on the production team are devastated by the tragic accident that happened,” spokeswoman Nadine Jolson said on behalf of Unclaimed Freight Productions and Meddin Studios. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of our crew member.”
[Updated 5:59 p.m. Feb. 21: Though Meddin Studios deferred comment to Jolson, she said late Friday she is only representing the film’s production offices.]
Liz Bieber, a spokeswoman for Open Road Films, said a release date for the film had not been set and declined to comment on how the incident might affect the movie’s future.
The Sheriff’s Department said the area where the tracks run is usually gated off. The tracks are operated by CSX. The land around it is owned by timber giant Rayonier.
[Updated 2:53 p.m. Feb. 21: Russell Schweiss, a spokesman for Rayonier, said the film crew had been granted permission to shoot on the company’s land for one day. The film crew had separate discussions with CSX about the bridge and tracks, he said.
“I’m not privy about what access they had to CSX property,” Schweiss said. “They were well aware of the property boundaries.”]
The International Cinematographers Guild said in a statement that it was “shocked and saddened” by Jones’ death. The guild described her as “a well-respected camera assistant, much loved by those who worked with her.”
Jones started her career six years ago and later moved from Charleston, S.C., to Georgia “to further her career in a more competitive but mainstream location,” according to her website.
“She was much loved in our community, and she’ll be missed terribly,” the South Carolina Film Commission said on Facebook.
Many who knew Jones, including from her time with “The Vampire Diaries,” were mourning her death in social media posts. Second camera assistants such as Jones typically help keep the camera charged, load it with fresh film and track equipment.
Several people said in online posts that more safety precautions should have been taken on the tracks.
“It’s a harsh reminder of one of my primary rules in life.... you and only you are primarily responsible for your safety ... don’t be afraid to say no,” cameraman Pedro Guimaraes wrote on Instagram. “Speak up when you see unsafe situations around you.”
Authorities found broken electronics, a torn mattress and other debris when they arrived on scene shortly after 4:30 p.m. Thursday. Gardner said at least two cameras were found intact.
Musician Tyson Ritter and actor William Hurt are scheduled to star as Allman in “Midnight Rider” with actors Eliza Dushku and Bradley Whitford also in the cast. Georgia’s Wayne County does not appear to require film permits.
We are shocked and saddened by the loss of Sarah Elizabeth Jones. Our hearts and thoughts go out to her family. pic.twitter.com/i6Xo27vVm0— IATSE Local 600 (@ICGLocal600) February 21, 2014
Mourning the loss of Sarah Jones. She was hit and killed by a train while filming Midnight Rider in Jesup, GA. pic.twitter.com/b2YlAOYwwu— Amy Rigdon (@coolrockA) February 21, 2014