Jury awards $11.2 million after fatal injury on Georgia film set

A Chatham County jury has awarded $11.2 million in a civil suit stemming from a deadly accident on a Georgia film set.

“Midnight Rider” crew member Sarah Jones, 27, died in February 2014 when a train came hurtling down the track where the film crew was setting up for a scene. The production did not have permission to film on the train trestle outside Jesup.

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Director Randall Miller reached a plea deal that avoided a trial and absolved his wife and business partner, Jody Savin, of criminal prosecution. In pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing, Miller received a sentence of two years in jail and eight on probation, in addition to a $20,000 fine.

Jones’ parents Richard and Elizabeth in May 2014 filed a lawsuit filed against numerous plaintiffs involved with the case .  Some settled, but CSX Transportation, which owns the tracks where the unauthorized production work was taking place, mounted a defense. The defense and plaintiffs' attorneys rested their cases last week.

NEW: A lawsuit filed by the firm that represented Jones' parents alleges unsafe practices on the metro Atlanta set of "Sleepy Hollow."

The jury assigned varying levels of liability: CSX is liable for 35 percent or roughly $3.92 million; Miller for 28 percent or $3.14 million, Rayonier (the corporation that owns the land where the tracks are located), 18 percent or about 2 million, Savin and first AD Hillary Schwartz 7 percent or about $785,000 and producer  Jay Sedrish 5 percent or about $561,000.

Here is page 1 of the verdict form. Photo provided to the AJC by the Jones family's representative.
Page 2 of the verdict form.

A statement from Richard Jones was issued Monday evening:

“Elizabeth and I have spent the last 3 plus years wanting to understand how our daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Jones, tragically lost her life. That search has now come to a close. 

Sarah's life was a bright beacon of hope that was snuffed out too soon. 

Elizabeth and I want to thank our attorney, Jeff Harris, his partners and exceptional staff, who worked so hard for Sarah. We also would like to thank our Columbia attorney Jake Moore for his guidance. 

We felt that this trial was necessary in order to learn what happened that tragic day of February 20, 2014. It is only with the discovery of what could have been done differently that we might avoid another similar tragic loss of life.

We have learned much from this trial. No doubt that the decisions made by those in charge of Film Allman, LLC were foolish, criminal and, in our view, selfish. That said, this trial disclosed a number of exceptionally poor judgements and ignored opportunities by CSX Transportation to prevent this tragedy. Frankly, I believe that the evidence in this trial indicated that CSX has systemic issues that need corrected. 

We miss you Sarah.”

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About the Author

Jennifer Brett
Jennifer Brett
Jennifer Brett is a multiplatform journalist and digital coach. She writes The Buzz blog for accessAtlanta.com.