Film Director Convicted for On-Set Death Gets Early Release From Prison
Randall Miller, director of the now-scrapped movie Midnight Rider, has been released early from prison after being convicted for the death of 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones. Jones was killed on February 20, 2014 when the crew was getting ready to film a dream sequence on a train trestle in Doctortown, Georgia. Jones was killed and eight other crew members were injured when a train suddenly came through.
In March 2015, Miller pleaded guilty to criminal trespass and involuntary manslaughter charges related to the incident. On the day of the accident, Miller and his crew had permission to film on some of the property surrounding the train trestle, but not on the train trestle itself. They had previously tried to get permission to film on the train tracks, but were denied. The film’s location manager was not on set the day of the accident and the director decided to try to “steal a shot” by filming on the train tracks anyway. The producers of the film said they were told two trains would be coming through that day and after they observed two trains pass through, they thought it would be safe for them to get their shot.
When the crew heard the whistle of the train coming, they had less than a minute to get off the trestle. Sarah Jones was hit by the train and a hospital bed that had been set on the tracks was hit by the train, which sent shrapnel flying, injuring several other crew members. The crew was unaware they did not have permission to be on the train trestle. An investigation by OSHA found that the producers also failed to properly train the crew members on safety procedures for working on the train tracks.
In addition to the charges against Miller, Miller’s wife and co-producer Jody Savin, unit production manager Jay Sedrish, and first assistant director Hillary Schwartz were also charged with criminal trespass and involuntary manslaughter. As part of Miller’s plea agreement, the charges against Savin were dropped. Sedrish and Schwartz were both sentenced to ten years of probation and ordered to pay a fine. After Miller’s release from prison, he will have to spend 10 years on probation, during which time he is not allowed to serve as a director, assistant director, or hold any other position that involves overseeing safety on a film set.
Miller was released after his attorneys argued that they had arranged a “two for one” deal with the Assistant District Attorney in the hallway before the hearing one year ago. The judge felt he had no other choice but to honor that deal and ordered that he be released. Miller’s sudden release came as a surprise to the family of Sarah Jones and Sheriff John Carter, who says he was never aware of a “two-for-one” deal for Miller. Miller had served one year in prison and will have to continue
The family of Sarah Jones is very disappointed by Miller’s early release. In a statement, Sarah’s father Richard said, “When Elizabeth and I agreed to this plea, it was our understanding that he would be serving for two years in jail. If we understood that it would have been one year, we would not have agreed. This is, in our view, about a bigger purpose. It’s about making the film industry a better, safer place. And in order to do so, we feel very strongly that this is an important element that Mr. Miller be held fully accountable for what he did.”
Miller is the first film director to be convicted and serve a prison sentence related to the death or injury of a crew member. The death of Sarah Jones sparked a great deal of conversation in the film industry about dangerous working conditions on film sets. Following her death, Jones’ family started a foundation called “Safety for Sarah,” whose goal is to improve safety on film sets through awareness and accountability. A smartphone app was also developed to give crew members a way to anonymously report unsafe working conditions.