After a lengthy investigation, Midnight Rider director Randall Miller, writer-producer Jody Savin and unit production manager/executive producer Jay Sedrish have been charged with involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass in the death of 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones by Georgia's Wayne Superior Court. If the trio are convicted, Georgia law states that the manslaughter conviction could result in a 10-year prison sentence, although the criminal trespass charge carries a 12-month maximum sentence.
On February 20, Sarah Jones was helping to set up a shot on a Doctortown, Georgia train trestle when she was struck by a train. According to Deadline's investigation, the crew waited for two previous trains to pass, before setting up a shot that required actor William Hurt, who has since left this biopic of music legend Gregg Allman, to lay on a heavy hospital bed situated on the train tracks. Unexpectedly, a third train came through, as the crew members used the only escape route possible, a pathway wide enough for one person at a time. The heavy bed exploded on impact, sending debris flying like shrapnel.
Production was shut down shortly after the tragic death, but reports indicate that the filmmakers were trying to rally the crew to restart production, while moving the shoot from Georgia to Los Angeles, but those efforts were shot down and shooting never resumed. The Wayne Superior Court has been investigating the incident since it happened in February. A grand jury was convened yesterday, July 2, with an indictment coming down shortly thereafter, following a presentation by Detective Joe Gardner.
Sarah Jones' parents have also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Randall Miller and Jody Savin's Unclaimed Freight Productions company, and the incident has set off a firestorm of controversy regarding safety practices on the set. Sarah Jones was mentioned during the Oscar telecast after the In Memoriam segment, with several attendees wearing black ribbons to support what has become an international movement to make film sets safer. A number of Facebook pages have been created in the aftermath of her death, such as Slates for Sarah, where film and TV productions honor her memory on their film slates.