Friday, March 27, 2015

Real Life Consequences of Railroad Photography Dangers

Filming location of I've been writing about the dangers of photography, videography and filming on, at or near railroad tracks for some time. In my recent article, “Update: Photographing near the railroad — Don't!!!” I included the example of the death of Sarah Jones, about what can and has gone wrong when people film on railroad tracks without the permission and cooperation of the railroad.

On February 20, 2014, during the filming of the movie “Midnight Rider” after two trains passed their filming location near Doctortown, GA, USA, the film crew setup to shoot a “dream sequence” on a railroad trestle over the Altamaha River.

Soon, a third train, which wasn't expected, came chugging across the bridge over the river connecting to the trestle. The crew had less than a minute to clear the trestle. It wasn't enough time, and as a result, second camera assistant, Sarah Jones, was killed by the train.

Along with Jones, Joyce Gilliard, almost lost one of her arms. Frankly, she was lucky to survive. Three others were also injured.

The train was a CSX freight train. It blew its horn when the engineer saw people on the trestle, but it couldn't stop in time. Freight trains, according to their size, can easily take a mile to stop due to their huge momentum.

It turns out CSX never gave permission to “Midnight Rider” to film on the tracks, therefore, the people running the set had no cooperation from CSX, nor did they know what the schedule of trains coming through the trestle would be. In fact, CSX twice denied the filmmakers permission to film at that location according to police reports.

Despite not knowing the train schedule, and apparently not setting up a safety system to detect train traffic coming toward the set, to give enough advanced warning to ensure the safety of their entire film crew, they decided to film on the tracks.

According to reports about what happened, there was no safety coordinator on the set, and call sheets didn't have detailed notes on safety with the train. These are standard in the industry.
The movie's director, Randall Miller, his business partner, Jody Savin, and executive producer, Jay Sedrish were all charged with involuntary manslaughter and other charges.

Randall Miller, in a plea deal, pleaded guilty in the case and will spend two years in the county jail in Georgia, and eight years on probation for involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing charges. He will pay a $20,000 fine. His wife and business partner, Jody Savin, had her charges dropped under the plea. She was facing the same charges.

Executive producer Jay Sedrish, also pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing, but he got no jail time. He will serve 10 years of probation and was allow to return home to California.

Of course, all three will forever have Jones' death on their conscience, and will have the death and injuries on their work resume if they try to get work in the industry again. I expect the latter to be the punishment which will really affect them.

Jones’ family filed a wrongful death suit against Miller, Savin and Sedrish late last spring. Also named as defendants were Gregg Allman, distributor Open Road Films and the companies that own the railroad tracks and surrounding land.

Only commonsense and personal responsibility can end unnecessary deaths and serious injuries like the ones in this case.

It's time the photography, videography, film communities make a concerted effort to get the word out and keep our own from making the same tragic mistakes as occurred on the set of “Midnight Rider.”

(Image: Filming location of "Midnight Rider" near Doctortown, Georgia showing train trestle over the Altamaha River where Sarah Jones was killed by a train traveling across the trestle. Copyright © 2015 Google, Imagery © 2015 DigitalGlobe, US Geological Survey, USDA Farm Service Agency)


Serena said...

Wow, they got off easy considering they never had permission to film on the tracks.

Titus said...

That sentence is a joke.

Vic said...

How could the judge accept that plea deal. It's a travesty.

Chena-Arizona said...

This isn't justice for Jones. I hope the family gets plenty in the civil suit. It won't bring Jones back, but it might prevent the next film maker from putting more lives in jeopardy for no reason whatsoever.

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