Randall Miller, the director of Midnight Rider, a biopic about the life of Gregg Allman, pleaded guilty Monday to charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing for his role in a train crash that killed 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones. Jay Sedirish, the film's executive producer, was also sentenced to 10 years probation.
Jones, an Atlanta native who previously worked on The Vampire Diaries, was struck and killed by a train during a dream sequence being filmed on the tracks, although the filmmakers had twice been denied permission to film there. Jones was standing on the train trestle near Doctortown, Georgia the day of the accident along with several other crew members. The director and producers had evidently planned for two trains to come through during the shooting of a dream sequence, but were unaware that a third train would arrive moments later. The crew was never informed they didn't have permission to be on the tracks. A video shot just before the accident shows that crew members had to run for their lives to get away. Jones was reportedly struck by a hospital bed positioned along the tracks and dragged into the path of the train. Eight other people were also injured.
Miller was previously sued by Jones's parents and reached a confidential settlement with them. During that suit, he argued that it wasn't his job to secure or review permits; in a statement, his attorneys also slammed their "shotgun approach" to a lawsuit. Jones' death raised larger issues about crew safety in the film business; industry professionals were also angered by the extremely half-assed memorial placard she received during last year's Oscars. A group called Slates for Sarah start putting her name or the words "RIP Sarah Jones" on production slates to pay homage to her.
Miller was criminally charged in Jones' death along with his wife and production partner Jody Savin and the film's executive producer Jay Sedirish. Variety reports that the three agreed to a plea deal in which the charges against Savin were waived and Sedirish only received the ten years' probation. Miller will serve two years in county jail, followed by eight more on probation.
CBS notes that it's the first time in 30 years that someone has been charged for an egregious safety violation on a film set; the last time was when Twilight Zone director John Landis was charged in a horrifying helicopter accident that killed three actors, two of them children: Vic Morrow and Myca Dinh Le, 7, and Renee Shin-Yi Chen, 6.
Landis and four other crew members were ultimately found not guilty in the deaths, but the case led to years of civil lawsuits, lots of controversy and—supposedly—a safer and better regulated film industry.
Jones with her father Richard. Photo via Slates for Sarah
A previous version of this post misdentified Myca Dinh Le's gender and reversed the ages of the two children killed on the Twilight Zone set. I regret the error.