Fallen film crew member’s parents discuss lawsuit

Three months after their daughter’s death on a Jesup train trestle, Sarah Jones’ parents are suing a long list of individuals and entities involved with “Midnight Rider,” the movie Jones was working on when she was killed.

“It is a challenge to not become bitter,” Richard Jones said during an interview on Thursday. “It’s a challenge not to be angry. We are determined to focus on the positive. To do so, that means we need to hold some people accountable for their actions.”

He and Elizabeth Jones, who live in Columbia, South Carolina, on Wednesday filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Chatham County against a slew of defendants including musician Gregg Allman, the subject of the film and one of its executive producers.

“He does have legal responsibility,” said Jones family attorney Jeff Harris. Because of Allman’s executive producer role, he was apprised of daily filming activities and therefore should have been aware of what was planned the day the fatal train wreck occurred, Harris said.

Others named in the lawsuit include Unclaimed Freight Productions; producer-writer-director and Unclaimed Freight co-owner Randall Miller; Unclaimed Freight co-owner and producer-writer Joy Savin; location manager Charles Baxter; executive producer and unit production manager Jay Sedrish; executive producers Michael Lehman and Don Mandrik; first assistant director Hillary Schwartz; director of photography Mike Ozier; distributor Open Road Films; WME BI Holdings and Savannah-based Meddin Studios, which provided production and filming equipment; Meddin co-founder and creative director Jeffrey Gant; Rayonier Performance Fibers, the mill where the train tracks involved are located; CSX Transportation and other entities.

Through spokespeople, Meddin Studios, CSX, Rayonier and Miller told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution they were not commenting. Open Road issued a statement to The Hollywood Reporter: “This event was a horrible tragedy and our deepest condolences go out to the Jones family, the crew members and others who have suffered. Open Road Films was not involved in the production in any way at any time and we have been named in this suit without justification.”

Richard and Elizabeth Jones say they filed suit on behalf of their 27-year-old daughter in hopes of spurring change in the industry.

“We can choose to be angry and do nothing or we can make something good happen,” Elizabeth Jones said. “It’s what Sarah would have wanted. Anger gets you nowhere.”

On the day of the fatality, the crew was setting up for a scene involving a hospital bed placed on the railroad tracks on the trestle. Two trains had already passed and the crew believed no more trains were coming, but a third train did come down the tracks, the lawsuit states.

“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 states. “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.”

Although the suit notes that the filming crew did not have CSX’s permission to film on the trestle, conductors of the two earlier trains should have alerted a dispatcher that a group was filming on the tracks, Harris said.

“People may look at the lawsuit and say, ‘Why did you name 18 defendants?’ It’s my job as a lawyer to identify all of the people involved in that process and begin that discovery process and find out who’s telling the truth. We’ll get to the bottom of it.”

Naming such a large number of defendants is meant to compel everyone involved to reveal exactly what they know, he said.

“It’s very common in workplace tragedies to have a number of people drop the ball. That’s what happened out there this day,” Harris said. “You had a number of people responsible for set safety. You had a number of people make bad decisions. Everybody’s blaming each other. That’s unfortunately not uncommon in these cases. We’re going to find out exactly what decisions were made, and who made the bad calls that resulted in this tragedy.”