On Friday, Austin Amelio — who played Dwight on The Walking Dead and now stars on Fear the Walking Dead — gave testimony as a witness for AMC in the wrongful death trial involving stuntman John Bernecker. In 2017, while filming a death scene in season 8, Bernecker fell over a small balcony and missed the protective pads underneath by two feet, landing instead headfirst on the concrete. He died of severe head injuries two days later.
The central question in the trial is whether The Walking Dead and its stunt coordinator were negligent, or if Bernecker’s death was a result of his own error. The matter seems to revolve around if and why Bernecker grasped the rail and held on as he flipped over the balcony. Bernecker was allegedly told not to hold on to the railing, and doing so altered the trajectory of his fall, resulting in his death. Holding onto the trailing was neither in any of the rehearsals nor in the script, according to AMC’s lawyers, and on Friday, those lawyers were trying to determine why he might have held onto the railing.
Austin Amelio, it turns out, is a major witness for The Walking Dead‘s defense, because Dwight is the character who killed the character, Mark (Griffin Freeman), for whom Bernecker was a stunt double. Bernecker’s attorneys wanted to know if Amelio or his prop gun touched Bernecker before he fell, which might have resulted in Bernecker instinctually grabbing the rail.
“Absolutely not,” Amelio testified, recounting the safety meeting he’d had before shooting the scene. “The only thing I remember is, ‘Do not touch him.’” Amelio who witnessed the entire scene, also testified that he “was in complete and utter shock” and that “it was the worst day in my life.”
Freeman, who played the character for whom Bernecker was doubling, backed up Amelio’s account. He had footage of the sequence from his phone. He filmed the entire scene, and Freeman testified that it clearly shows Bernecker moving only after his body had cleared Amelio’s hand. AMC further suggested that Bernecker’s decision to grab the railing could not have been foreseen. A number of other crew members from The Walking Dead have also testified on the show’s behalf.
Bernecker’s family, meanwhile, argues that Bernecker should not be held accountable, the death was preventable, and that precautions that the series took were inadequate. The defense will continue putting on their case on Monday ahead of closing arguments expected midweek.