On-Set Death Of A Camera Assistant Brings Manslaughter Charges For Director And Producers

Thankfully, it’s been a long time since the film business has had to deal with an inquiry as tough as what happened in the wake of Vic Morrow and two child actors’ deaths on the set of ‘The Twilight Zone.’ But a new case in Georgia could turn out to be equally momentous. Late last night, director Randall Miller and producer Jody Savin (pictured, they’re married) turned themselves in to face charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing in connection with a grand jury indictment following the death of camera assistant Sarah Jones on the set of ‘Midnight Rider’ in Savannah Georgia.

The two posted a $27,700 bond and were released, a Wayne County Sheriff’s Department rep confirmed to Deadline. Miller, Savin, and unit production manager Jay Sedrish [who has not yet turned himself in] were charged with involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing by prosecutors in Wayne County following a months-long investigation by local authorities.

Under Georgia law, a manslaughter conviction would carry a sentence of 10 years in prison. Criminal trespass is a misdemeanor and carries potential sentence of one year. [Deadline]

As detailed in a lengthy investigation by Deadline, Jones was killed while trying to shoot a dream sequence centering on a hospital bed placed on some train tracks over a narrow trestle outside Savannah, Georgia, for an Allman Brothers biopic starring William Hurt. After delaying the shot for two passing trains already, a third train came through unexpectedly without giving the crew enough time to move their equipment, and the train struck the hospital bed, spinning it around and knocking Jones into the train, killing her as Hurt and other crewmembers stood just a few feet away.

The production had secured a permit to shoot on the grounds surrounding the tracks, but not on the tracks themselves. A former head of the Savannah Film Commission alleges that the board cut corners in order to be more business friendly and attract productions. As more and more places like Savannah, Louisiana, Vancouver, and wherever lure productions outside of LA with tax breaks, the issue of how much on-set oversight they provide was perhaps inevitably going to become an issue. In a best-case scenario, a production comes through and knocks down a tree branch here or there or screws a few people over like the Simpsons monorail episode, but, as this case illustrates, in a really bad-case scenario, people can die. It’s a sobering example of what can go wrong when you’re shooting guerrilla-style, especially for Savin and Miller, who had apparently bragged about playing fast and loose with the rules in the past (which, in the defense, when you’re talking about outflanking bureaucracy, is often a good thing). Bottom line, I would not want to be them right now. That’s why I try to spend most of the day in my pajamas so that nothing bad can ever happen.