by Paul Bowers
Three people involved in the making a biographical film about musician Gregg Allman have been charged with manslaughter in the February death of Sarah Elizabeth Jones, a camera assistant who was killed by a train while the crew filmed on an active train trestle. Jones was a graduate of the College of Charleston and was working with the crew near Savannah, Ga., at the time of her death.
According to a press release from Brunswick Judicial Court District Attorney Jackie L. Johnson, three people have been indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass: director Randall Miller, his wife and business partner Jody Savin, and executive producer Jay Severish. Miller and Savin are co-owners of Unclaimed Freight Productions, which was filming Midnight Rider, a biographical movie about the Allman Brothers co-founder starring William Hurt in the role of Allman.
Under Georgia law, if convicted, the filmmakers could each face up to 10 years in prison on the involuntary manslaughter charge and one year in prison on the criminal trespass charge. According to the indictment, "Jones and several other members of the film crew were located on the railroad tracks and trestle at Doctortown Landing in Wayne County when Jones was struck and killed by an oncoming train. Other crew members were injured but survived the collision." According to the Associated Press, three civil lawsuits are also pending in the case.
According to a May report in The Guardian, Miller said he was not aware that the train trestle was active. He said he had obtained permission to film from the land's owners, but he had not cleared the shoot with railway operator CSX. "I was in the middle of the track, and I almost died," Miller said at the time.
The Wayne County Sheriff's Office has been investigating the incident since February, and a detective presented the case to a grand jury on Wednesday. "The District Attorney's Office would like to thank Sheriff John Carter and his officers for their investigation," the release states.
In April, after the filmmakers decided to resume filming Midnight Rider, Allman himself pleaded with the company not to go forward with the film. He has also sued the production company in an attempt to make them return the rights to his life story. As reproduced in The Hollywood Reporter, Allman wrote to the director:
I am writing to you as one human being to another, and appealing to you from my heart. I am asking you from a personal perspective not to go forward.
When the idea of you producing the film first came about, I was genuinely excited about the possibility of sharing my story with fans around the world. Unfortunately, all of that changed for me on February 20 of this year. While there may have been a possibility that the production might have resumed shortly after that, the reality of Sarah Jones' tragic death, the loss suffered by the Jones family and injuries to the others involved has led me to realize that for you to continue production would be wrong.
Your desires as a filmmaker should not outweigh your obligations as a human being. I am asking you to do the right thing and to set aside your attempts to resume the production out of respect for Sarah, her family and the loss that all of us feel so deeply.
Allman is also facing a wrongful death lawsuit from Jones' family. He is a co-defendant in the suit with the director, crew, and film distributor.
Hurt, who was on set during the February accident, has pulled out of the film.