(Doctorville, Georgia – February 20, 2014)
The day after a female second camera assistant from Atlanta, GA died and seven other film crew members, but not specifically including the film’s director, Randall Miller, of a company filming a sequence for the upcoming biopic movie of the life of rock band icon Gregg Allman, were injured as an unexpected CSX train barreled through the production site just after a mattress had been placed upon the CSX railroad trestle spanning the Altamaha River in Doctortown, GA at about 4:00 P.M. Thursday afternoon, the railroad is claiming that the crew did not have permission to be on the tracks. The film’s director was pulled from the path of the train by a photographer on the crew after Miller fell on the CSX tracks as he tried to clear participants from the scene, but 27-year-old Sarah Elizabeth Jones was hit by the train and killed.
The mattress was intended as a prop for a dream scene in the movie, “Midnight Rider”, and the injured and dead crew members were all associated with Savannah, GA-based Meddin Studios, which had a crew of 20 employees at the scene. CSX claimed that the crew was there without permission, but when news media queried CSX Spokeswoman Kristin Seay, she refused to comment further beyond the railroad’s official statement, and would not confirm the claim that the film crew had no permission from the railroad to be working on the train tracks.
Over 30 CSX and Amtrak trains cross the trestle daily, and although Federal Railroad Administration permissible track speed is 79 mph, there are indications that trains may slow to 15 mph when crossing the rail bridge. A CSX statement said that the unexpected train was travelling from Memphis, TN to Savannah, GA.
Wayne County Sheriff’s Dept. Detective Joe Gardner, whose agency was investigating the tragic death as a homicide, confirmed that all parties involved had full permission by CSX. According to renowned Hollywood publication “Variety”, the crew knew when two other trains were scheduled to cross the bridge, but the arrival of a “surprise” third train gave them less than a minute to get to safety.
According to Gardner, Rayonier, a forest products company which owns a paper mill near the site as well as the land across which the CSX tracks run, had given the crew permission to film on its property next to the tracks. “CSX has told me they were aware they (the production crew) were out there, but they did not have permission to be on the train tracks.”
Rayonier representative Russell Schweiss told the Los Angeles Times the company granted the crew permission to shoot the film on the property for one day. He said the crew had separate discussions with CSX about the bridge and the tracks.
ACESHOWBIZ, an entertainment industry publication, said that “Rumor has it, the movie’s crew was provided with a train schedule by CSX and moved on to the track above the Altamaha River after two expected trains moved through the area. They were reportedly told that if there’s any additional train, they’d hear a whistle about a minute before it reached the bridge. A third train did come, but they didn’t have enough time to step away safely.’
Detective Gardner further said that it wasn’t clear if crew members were actually on the trestle bridging the river or just on the tracks at the river’s edge. He further said that the train smashed some of the crew’s equipment, and that it’s possible that some of the injuries were caused by flying debris. Reportedly, the tragic death of Ms. Jones was suffered due to involvement with the flying debris.
While investigators looked into all aspects of the event, participating parties were offering official statements to the news media. “All of us on the production team are devastated by the tragic accident that happened today,” said a publicist for the “Midnight Rider” production. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of our crew member.”
The massive confusion in lack of train movement coordination also spawned a statement by CSX Corporation, which said, in part, “CSX is deeply saddened by a tragedy that occurred late today on a CSX rail bridge in Doctortown, GA, and is cooperating fully with authorities as they investigate. CSX personnel are working with the first responders to meet the needs of those injured.”