The first assistant director on Midnight Rider Hillary Schwartz was found guilty of criminal trespass and involuntary manslaughter yesterday, in a high-profile case involving a shoot for the film on a Georgia train track without a permit. The incident just over a year ago resulted in the death of Sarah Jones, a 27-year-old member of the camera crew, who was hit by an oncoming train. Several others were injured. The case has become an industry cause célèbre and a rallying cry for insuring set safety.
Schwartz, who had tried to get the charges dismissed, was sentenced to 10 years of probation and fined $5,000 by Judge Anthony Harris in Wayne County Superior Court, close to where the accident took place. Under the terms of the sentence, which doesn’t include jail time, the 1st AD cannot work as a director or assistant director for a decade. She can however be a producer, as long as she’s not overseeing the safety of others as part of the job. Prior to sentencing, Richard Jones, Sarah’s father, told the judge that as the film’s first assistant director, Schwartz was responsible for assuring a safety on the set but “apparently failed in her duty to do so.”
The verdict followed Monday’s sentencing of director Randall Miller and executive producer and unit production manager Jay Sedrish, both on similar charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass. Randall, who changed his plea from not guilty to guilty, will serve two years in prison and another eight on probation. The penalty for Sedrish is 10 years probation. As part of the overall plea deal, charges were dismissed against Miller’s wife Jody Savin, who was the producer of Midnight Rider, a biopic about rock star Gregg Allman.
In addition to his jail time and fine, Miller has to perform 360 hours of community service. He’s also barred from directing during the duration of his sentence, including the probation period. Sedrish is also restricted from directing during his probation, including serving as a first or second assistant director. Miller immediately started to serve the prison term after sentencing.
“This was a very preventable accident,” said district attorney and chief prosecutor Jackie Johnson, talking to reporters after the trial wrapped up. The State of Georgia has now rested its case. However, there are a number of civil suits still pending.