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Why this movie about Gregg Allman’s life was never made

Greg Allman was given the 2011 Americana Lifetime Achievement Performer Award.
Greg Allman was given the 2011 Americana Lifetime Achievement Performer Award.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

"Midnight Rider," a movie about Gregg Allman, started filming a little over three years ago in the tiny community of Doctortown, just outside Jesup. But the project was never completed and the director ended up going to jail.

On the first day of production in February 2014, the crew was setting up to film on a train trestle owned by CSX - despite getting denied permission to do so. Crew member Sarah Jones, 27, died when a train came barreling down the tracks. She could not escape in time.

Jones was a South Carolina native who had been living in Atlanta and had worked on several productions in the metro area. About three months after her death, Jones' parents,  Richard and Elizabeth Jones,  filed a lawsuit against a slew of defendants involved with the project, including Allman himself. Although he was not present during the filming, he served as an executive producer. He later was dropped from the lawsuit, which spelled out in jarring terms the last moments of Jones' life.

"The train was almost as wide as the trestle bridge and (approached) at a rapid speed ... The crew had less than 60 seconds to react, " the suit stated. "Several members of the crew, including Sarah, were not able to escape the path of the oncoming train ... The resulting train collision and the flying debris caused Sarah's death."

Jones' mother was outraged when her daughter's autopsy report was releasedThe report, which would have been evidence at trial if there had been one, is gruesome and heartbreaking. The AJC did not publish the report.

Sarah Jones was killed while working on the set of “Midnight Rider” in Georgia in 2014. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Sarah Jones was killed while working on the set of “Midnight Rider” in Georgia in 2014. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Several of the civil suit's defendants faced criminal charges as well. In March 2015, just as the trial was about to get underway, "Midnight Rider" director Randall Miller reached a plea deal that absolved his wife and business partner, Jody Savin.

In pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing, Miller received a sentence of two yeas in jail and eight on probation, in addition to a $20,000 fine. He was released in March 2016.

Executive producer Jay Sedrish also pleaded guilty and got 10 years on probation. The day after Miller's plea agreement was announced, Wayne County District Attorney Jackie Johnson announced another guilty plea in the case: first assistant director Hillary Schwartz was found guilty after a bench trial before Superior Court Judge Anthony Harrison, and was sentenced to 10 years probation, and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s report, released in March 2015, detailed the numerous safety lapses that preceded the fatal wreck.

Jones’ parents settled their lawsuit. A statement issued on their behalf at the time said a confidential agreement had been reached between them and Unclaimed Freight Productions, Inc.; Randall Miller; Jody Savin; Charles Baxter; Jay Sedrish; Jay Sedrish, Inc.; Don Mandrik; Hillary Schwartz; Mike Ozier; Epozier Films, Inc.; and Rayonier Performance Fibers, LLC.

Jones’ untimely death spurred an industrywide call for change. A grass-roots “Slates for Sarah” campaign honored her by placing her name on movie and television production slates on projects, and she was recognized as part of the “In Memoriam” segment of the 2014 Academy Awards.