“Midnight Rider” Director Pleads Guilty to Involuntary Manslaughter in Camera Assistant’s Death
Randall Miller, director of the now-scrapped film Midnight Rider, has pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter over the death of camera assistant Sarah Jones. Jones was killed in February 2014 while the crew was trying to film a dream sequence on a train trestle when a train came down the tracks unexpectedly. Miller also pleaded guilty to criminal trespass charges as the crew did not have permission to be filming on the train trestle the day of the accident. The crew was not aware they did not have permission to film on the train tracks. An OSHA investigation also found that the supervising filmmakers continued their disregard for worker safety by not holding meetings about railroad safety or providing workers with safety bulletins.
Miller was sentenced to serve two years in Georgia’s Wayne County jail, eight years of probation, pay a $20,000 fine, and will have to complete 360 hours of community service in California. He also will not be allowed to work as a director, assistant director, or safety supervisor on any film for ten years. Miller’s lawyer Ed Garland stated, “We expect him to be released in 12 months. That’s our expectation.”
As part of his plea bargain, charges against Jody Savin, Midnight Rider’s producer and Miller’s wife, were dropped. Unit production manager and executive producer Jay Sedrish was given 10 years of probation and will have to pay a $10,000 fine. He also won’t be allowed to work as a director, assistant director, or safety supervisor on any film for 10 years, although he would still be able to work as a unit production manager.
First assistant director Hillary Schwartz was also indicted on involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass charges. She was found guilty of criminal trespass and involuntary manslaughter. She was sentenced to 10 years of probation and will have to pay a $5,000 fine. Like her co-workers, she is also barred from working as a director, assistant director, or safety supervisor on any film.
Over the past 100 years, over 80 people have died while working on movie sets in the United States. In 1982, there was a very high profile accident on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie, in which three actors were killed and six others were injured when a mis-timed pyrotechnic effect caused a helicopter accident. That case led to manslaughter charges against director John Landis and four others, but they were later acquitted. Following a 1929 fire at Pathé Studios in Manhattan that killed ten workers, the studio’s production manager and vice president were arrested and indicted for manslaughter because the studio violated fire codes by not having sprinklers in the soundstages. Those charges were also dropped.
Although the Midnight Rider case was far from being the first film set fatality, it is very noteworthy for being the first time anyone has ever been convicted and received a jail sentence over a worker’s death on a film set.