William Hurt Opens Up About The Accident That Killed Sarah Jones

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William Hurt was playing Gregg Allman in Randall Miller’s Night Rider, shooting a dream sequence on a bed atop some train tracks on a bridge, minutes before a train crashed through the set, killing 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones. Miller was eventually sentenced to two years in jail over the incident, the first time criminal charges had been brought over an on-set accident since Vic Morrow’s death in a helicopter accident on the Twilight Zone movie 30 years ago.

This week, in an interview with Canada’s Global News, Hurt talked about the accident.

“I stopped everything and I said in front of everybody, I said, ‘Stop.’ And I asked (assistant director) Hillary (Schwartz) in front of the whole crowd, ‘Are we safe?’ Because it’s her job as the first AD to tell us that. She said, ‘Yes.’”

Hurt says he asked whether there was a spotter to alert them to oncoming trains and how much time they’d have to get out of the way. He says he was told, “Sixty seconds.”

“And I said in front of everybody, ‘Sixty seconds is not enough time to get these people and this equipment off this bridge. There’s just no way.’ And then I looked around, thinking that the rest of the crew, who had all worked with her before … would say something. And they didn’t. They just started shambling back to work. And I thought, ‘Well that’s their vote. They trust her.’ So we went to work.”

Hurt says he lay down on a bed that had been placed perpendicular to the tracks. Then he heard Schwartz say a train was coming.

“I was barefoot and I turned around, I twisted my head and I said, ‘Someone’s going to die now,’” he recalls.

“I tried to yank the bed up, my feet were getting clobbered by the splinters in the ties. I couldn’t move the bed at all, I just started screaming ‘You can’t stop it, you can’t stop it, you can’t stop it, you can’t stop it.’ And I picked my way across the ties, trying not to fall to impede people climbing over me who were trying to escape, too.

“And then I got into the rocks which were razor sharp and I turned and I’m going, ‘Oh, Jesus God.’ I’m looking at them, I was only a few feet away from the train and I saw them, I felt the wind buffered and I just covered my eyes and started screaming ‘No, no, no, no, no, no.’” [Globalnews.Ca]

Pretty awful. And I can understand the dilemma. Everyone is normally so paranoid and by the book during shoots – once, when I worked as a production assistant on a commercial being shot out in the desert, they had me walking around a barren wasteland putting orange cones next to gopher holes, lest “someone twist an ankle” – that it’s probably refreshing when someone makes a decision without consulting three lawyers first.

Of course, there’s reasonable paranoia and unreasonable paranoia, and worrying about trains coming down the track when you’re shooting on some trestles was a pretty healthy worry, in retrospect. Don’t risk your lives for your jobs, folks. If something dangerous is about to happen, drop everything and run. Hell, do it because the clock struck five.