‘Midnight Rider’ Director Pleads Guilty in Case of Fatal Train Crash
One of the saddest and most tragic incidents in recent film history occurred on a bridge in Georgia on February 20, 2014. The cast and crew of Midnight Rider, a biopic based on the life of musician Gregg Allman, had assembled for a day of camera tests. But while they were testing, director Randall Miller and his team decided to actually shoot a sequence for the film on a bridge over the Altamaha River, and as they prepared to film, a train came through, killing camera assistant Sarah Jones.
Miller, his wife and producer Jody Savin, and executive producer Jay Sedrish were charged with involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass for their role in Jones’ death and for allegedly shooting on the train tracks without permission. The trial was scheduled to begin today, but before jury selection could take place, the defendants reached plea agreements with the state. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Miller pled guilty, and received “a 10-year sentence — two years in Wayne County jail, the rest on probation in which he can't handle film crews.” As part of the deal, the case against Savin was dismissed; Sedrish entered an Alford plea that resulted in him receiving a 10-year probation sentence and a $10,000 fine.
Two years in prison and a total of 18 years of probation isn’t an overwhelming punishment for a tragic death, but Richard Jones, the father of Sarah Jones, told reporters, per Variety, that his family was “content with the result” of the case, adding:
“We do call for the movie industry to examine themselves and this myth of a cinematic bubble that does not exist.”
The Joneses have maintained throughout that their goal was not to get revenge against Miller, but to raise awareness about potentially risky practices in the film business, where cash-strapped producers try to stretch every dollar by cutting corners and stealing shots without proper permission and planning. If this case does open filmmakers’ eyes, and fewer risks are taken in the future, that’s a small silver lining in a very dark story.