“We are all Sarah Jones” and “Never Forget. Never Again” were the rallying cries earlier this year at a tribute held by local IATSE guilds for the crew member killed on a location shoot in Georgia. Yesterday the parents of Sarah Elizabeth Jones, the young camera assistant who died in a train accident during the filming of Midnight Rider in January, agreed to settle their civil lawsuit with the film’s director and producers, according to a statement from the lawyer for the family, Jeff Harris.
The settlement, terms of which remain confidential, was reached with the film’s producers Randall Miller (also the director) and his wife Jody Slavin and others. Richard and Elizabeth Jones had filed their lawsuit in Chatham County in Georgia in March, alleging that negligence on the part of the producers resulted in their daughter being killed.
Jones was working on a 110-year-old trestle bridge over the Altamaha River in the southeastern part of the state during the filming of Midnight Rider, a movie biography about Georgia-born rock musician Gregg Allman, when a CVX freight train came barreling down the tracks and struck her. Seven other crew members were injured by flying debris.
“Richard and Elizabeth Jones’ objectives in filing this lawsuit, after the death of their 27-year-old daughter, Sarah, have been clear and unwavering,” Harris said in a statement. “To find out what happened on the day of their daughter’s death, determine who was responsible, hold those who made bad decisions accountable and ensure this kind of tragedy never happens again on another film set. Today, we are another step closer to fully achieving those objectives.”
“Elizabeth and I are dedicated to ensuring that our daughter’s death is not in vain, and through our work with the Sarah Jones Film Foundation we continue to advocate for safer film sets – keeping safety always at the forefront, never again an afterthought,” Richard Jones said in a statement.
Jones’ death has turned into a cause for improvements in crew safety during shoots. In March the International Cinematographers Guild, IATSE Local 600, organized a candlelight vigil and walk on Sunset in Hollywood from the Director’s Guild of America to ICG headquarters where a memorial service for the camera assistant was held. Around 1,000 attendees heard from ICG president Steven Poster, IATSE West Coast vice president Mike Miller and her parents who had flown in.
“It makes me sad but also it makes me very angry,” said Miller. “No one should ever die making a movie or a television show. The loss of Sarah and the trauma and injuries that other members of the crew must now live with should never have happened. It’s not acceptable for crew – husbands, wives, sons or daughters – to be put in harm’s way on any shoot, no matter the budget, no matter the project, no matter the location. It should never happen.”
In addition to Miller and Savin, the confidential settlement agreement was reached with Charles Baxter, Jay Sedrish, Don Mandrik, Hillary Schwartz, Mike Ozier, Epozier Films and Rayonier Performance Fibers. The Jones family had previously dropped from their lawsuit against Gregg Allman; Michael Lehman, his manager, and Open Road Films, the film’s distributor.
The accident happened on Jan. 20, the first day of filming. The shoot shut down and has not resumed but the film has not been officially cancelled. “By committing these acts, or failures to act, the Midnight Rider defendants operated without minimum safety precautions and contrary to standard industry practices for productions of this scale and for productions involving dangerous filming conditions,” the Jones’ family had claimed in their lawsuit.
According to authorities, the film’s producers had permission to film on the surrounding property but not on the railway trestle itself, which is owned by CSX, one of the country’s biggest railroads. CSX is not party to the settlement.
Other actions are still pending. A Georgia grand jury on July 2 indicted Miller and Savin as well as executive producer Jay Sedrish on charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass. Miller, Savin and Sedrish have pled not guilty. A trial date for the criminal case has been set for March 9, 2015.