SAVANNAH, Ga. (CN) – An assistant director who was working on a Gregg Allman bio flick the day a freight train plowed into the film’s crew, killing one and injuring six, will be tried separately from her three co-defendants.
Director Randall Miller, his wife and business partner Jody Savin, and Jay Sedrish, executive producer of the film that was to be called “Midnight Rider,” are scheduled to go on trial March 9 on charges of involuntary manslaughter and trespassing.
On Thursday, prosecutors announced a fourth member of the “Midnight Rider” team, Hillary Schwartz, will be tried separately on the same charges.
Those charges stem from a deadly crash that occurred on February 20, 2014, when a train operated by CSX Transportation ran into a crew of filmmakers working on a railroad bridge spanning the Altamaha River in southeast Georgia.
Camera assistant Sarah Jones, a 27-year-old College of Charleston graduate, died at the scene. Production of the movie, which was to have starred William Hurt and Wyatt Russell, was halted after the accident.
In a pre-trial motion, Schwartz’s attorneys argued that unlike the others charged, their client was not a decision maker, but simply another member of the crew without a financial stake in the picture.
“Ultimately, Hillary had no ability to control the making of this movie or the decisions that were made,” the court documents say.
The motion goes on to say Schwartz wants to call her three co-defendants as witnesses, something she couldn’t do if they were tried together.
Investigators with the Wayne County, Ga. sheriff’s department concluded the film crew walked out onto the railroad bridge despite being twice denied permission — in writing — to film anywhere near the tracks by CSX.
A March 26, 2014, report in the entertainment trade paper Variety said Schwartz warned the crew that a train might arrive during shooting, and if so, they would have about a minute to clear the tracks and get off the bridge.
The scene that was being shot was a dream sequence, and it entailed placing a hospital bed on the tracks.
The account goes on to say that the crew heard the freight train’s whistle, but immediately discovered they had no time to escape. The train hit the hospital bed and shattered it, reportedly sending shrapnel in every direction. A piece of that shrapnel hit Jones and knocked her into the path of the train.
Jones parents sued all of the aforementioned defendants, but settled their case in November 2014. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
Last week, another member of the “Midnight Rider” crew, Izabeau “Beau” Giannakopoulos, sued Film Allman LLC, Open Road Films LLC, CSX Transportation, and others for the broken neck she said she experienced when she was hit by debris at the accident scene.
In a lawsuit filed in the Chatham County, Ga. court, Giannakopoulos says two trains passed by before the crew placed the hospital bed on the railroad bridge, and seeming to confirm Variety’s report, she maintains they were told no other trains were expected and if one did come, they would have time to escape.
“A third train came down the tracks at a speed close to 60 miles per hour. The crew did not have time to escape from the trestle. The train collided with the crew, the film equipment, and the heavy metal-framed hospital bed,” the complaint states. “Beau was hit in the back by debris from the violent collision. The emergency crews responding to the incident worried that Beau could die or become paralyzed from her injuries. At the hospital, doctors revealed that Beau’s neck and shoulder blade were broken.”
Giannakopoulos blames producers and others behind the Allman biopic for choosing a dangerous filming location.
“The Midnight Rider defendants had knowledge, both actual and constructive, of the danger presented by filming on active railroad tracks, but failed to exercise ordinary care to protect the filming cast and crew,” according to the complaint. “Specifically, the Midnight Rider defendants each failed to take reasonable, minimum safety precautions.”
Giannakopoulos says she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from the accident.
She is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, and is represented by Michael Weiss of Carroll & Weiss in Atlanta.
No date has been set for Schwartz’s trial. Her attorneys have also filed a motion asking that the charges against her be dropped.
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