A train, a narrow trestle and 60 seconds to escape – the death of Sarah Jones


The Feb. 20 death of 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones on the set of Midnight Rider outside Doctortown, Ga., spread grief and anger through Hollywood. It has led to an industrywide reckoning on safety standards and inspired some Oscars attendees to wear black ribbons on their lapels in her memory. Many of the details of the accident remain murky and unknown. But now a THR reconstruction, based on an exclusive eyewitness account and interviews with Jones’ parents and others, reveals harrowing new details of what happened when a 20-person film crew tried to shoot a scene on a live train track…

As the day wore on, director Randall Miller moved the shoot from the land beside the river onto the narrow gridwork of the trestle itself, which extends over the edge of the Altamaha. The trestle’s wood and metal bottom was covered with pebbles and had gaping holes in some places. The blustery wind rang through the girders, making it hard to stay steady, says Gilliard…

From shore, several dozen yards away, a voice shouted to the crew that in the event a train appeared, everyone would have 60 seconds to clear the tracks. “Everybody on the crew was tripping over that,” says Joyce Gilliard. “A minute? Are you serious?” By now, she and two other crewmembers were nervous enough that before shooting, they gathered in an informal prayer circle…

While Gilliard prayed, Jones helped load film, monitor the cameras and transport gear. A fresh-faced South Carolinian with a passion for travel and books, Jones wasn’t really the type to fret much. The crew was filming a dream sequence, and they had placed a twin-size metal-framed bed and mattress in the middle of the tracks. Then, Gilliard looked up and saw a light in the distance, followed by the immense howl of a locomotive. It was a train — and it was hurtling toward them.

Read the long, detailed, sad tale, a cautionary tale. Sooner or later a court will make decisions about precautions that didn’t seem to exist, protocols that were engaged decades ago to protect film crews – and ignored IMHO.

A tale worth reading for the death of a young working woman that never should have happened.

Thanks, Mike

10 thoughts on “A train, a narrow trestle and 60 seconds to escape – the death of Sarah Jones

  1. Filmer says:

    ‘Midnight Rider’ producers face wrongful-death lawsuit (5/21/14) http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/envelope/cotown/la-et-ct-midnight-rider-lawsuit-20140521-story.html “Filmmakers “selected an unreasonably dangerous site for the filming location; failed to secure approval for filming from CSX; concealed their lack of approval from CSX from the cast and crew … and otherwise failed to take measures to protect the safety of the ‘Midnight Rider’ cast and crew,” the lawsuit charges.” http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2014/may/21/singer-allman-filmmakers-sued-in-ga-train-death/

  2. Gaffer says:

    (10/30/14) Lawyers for Sarah Jones’ family are dropping Gregg Allman, Midnight Rider executive producer Michael Lehman and the unfinished film’s distributor Open Road Films from the civil lawsuit stemming from Jones’ on-set death. http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/6304070/gregg-allman-dismissed-midnight-rider-lawsuit The civil suit against the other defendants remains active. Currently, the family is suing the following: the film producers and director Randall Miller and his production company, Unclaimed Freight; the Film Allman banner set up by Miller and his wife, writer-producer Jody Savin; executive producers Jay Sedrish, first assistant director Hillary Schwartz, location manager Charles T. Baxter, director of photography Mike Ozier and Meddin Studios, which provided production and filming equipment and personnel.
    Miller, Savin, Sedrish and Schwartz have been criminally charged with involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass.
    “…The legal process is working and questions are being answered,” said Richard Jones on behalf of the Jones family. “During a very difficult and trying time for our family, Gregg Allman and Michael Lehman demonstrated their genuine sorrow over the loss of our daughter and their willingness to work with us in the future to ensure safe film sets for all. For that, we are grateful.”

  3. update says:

    “It has come to my attention that there is interest in the creation of an industry-wide safety hotline for IATSE members. This idea was borne out of the tragedy that claimed the life of Local 600 member Sarah Jones one year ago while working on the feature “Midnight Rider”. It is a worthy idea and we plan to implement a single hotline accessible to all of the industries we represent.”
    Matthew D. Loeb, International President the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) http://eepurl.com/beThYT

    • Update says:

      (6/22/15) “IATSE Launches Safety Hotline Program” http://iatse.net/print/17643 “The IATSE Safety Hotline is not intended to take the place of an employer’s hazard reporting plan, or to relieve the employer from their responsibility to keep jobs safe. The “General Duty Clause” in the OSH Act requires the employer to provide a safe place to work. Part of the IATSE’s mission is to assist the employer with making the workplace safer. In its 2015 2nd quarter issue of The Official Bulletin {see link}, the IATSE provides more details on the safety hotline along with guidelines that members can follow if they discover a hazardous situation at work, and the employer reporting plan has broken down.”

  4. Case closed says:

    ‘Midnight Rider’ Director Randall Miller’s Prison Sentence Marks Historic First http://deadline.com/2015/03/midnight-rider-trial-randall-miller-prison-historic-1201388781/ …in the 100 years between the death of Jones and the first production-related death — in 1914, when 16-year-old actress Grace McHugh drowned and cameraman Owen Carter died trying to rescue her while filming a scene for the movie “Across The Border” – more than 80 people have died in 52 fatal accidents while filming in the U.S. Two cases resulted in indictments, but none of those were convicted. The Midnight Rider case has changed that. Miller’s lawyer Ed Garland believes his client will likely only serve a year of the two-year sentence he received.
    See also:
    ‘Midnight Rider’ First AD Hillary Schwartz Guilty; Gets 10 Years Probation
    What Happened On The Tracks: The D.A.’s ‘Midnight Rider’ Narrative – Exclusive Video
    ‘Midnight Rider’ Reaction: “Safety On Set Highest Priority”, International Cinematographers Guild President Says
    ‘Midnight Rider’ Trial: Director’s Guild of America Says “Much Work To Be Done” On Set Safety
    Judge Says ‘Midnight Rider’ Plea May Send Film Industry A Message: Exclusive Video

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