SAVANNAH, Ga. (CN) – A camera assistant died in a train crash while shooting a movie based on Gregg Allman’s life, after producers failed to get permission to film on the tracks, the victim’s parents claim in court.
Richard and Elizabeth Jones sued Gregory Allman, the movie’s director and executive producers, and several companies involved in developing the film, on behalf of their daughter Sarah. Also named as defendants are railroad company CSX Transportation and Rayonier Performance Fibers, a forest products manufacturer that provided the filming location.
Allman, 66, is a rock and blues singer-songwriter and founding member of The Allman Brothers Band. He was inducted with the band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. His memoir, “My Cross to Bear,” was released in May 2012.
Unclaimed Freight Productions, a California producer of independent films, agreed to produce “Midnight Rider,” a biopic based on Allman’s life, according to the lawsuit.
On February 20, the “Midnight Rider” crew was shooting pre-production scenes in southeast Georgia on property owned by Rayonier. Sarah Jones, then 27, was a camera assistant in charge of setting up and transporting equipment.
Though the scenes involved setting up a hospital bed on active railroad tracks, the producers did not get permission from train operator CSX, nor did they tell the cast and crew they had no permission to film there, Jones’ parents claim.
They claim a Rayonier representative told the producers that only two trains a day were expected to pass by on the railroad tracks. Relying on that information, the crew set up the equipment on the tracks after the second train passed, according to the complaint.
When a third train approached the filming site at high speed, some crew members, including Jones, had no time to remove the equipment or get out of the way. The train crashed into the equipment, killing Jones and injuring other crew members.
“Before filming the scene on February 20, the cast and crew were informed by one or more of the Midnight Rider defendants, or their agents, representatives, contractors, or employees, that, if another train approached, the crew would have 60 seconds to remove themselves, their equipment, and the hospital bed from the trestle bridge,” the complaint states.
“Despite misgivings among the ‘Midnight Rider’ cast and crew over shooting the scene on the trestle bridge with only 60 seconds to evacuate, the crew prepared to film the scene.
“At approximately 4:30 p.m. on February 20, a third train operated by defendant CSX approached the ‘Midnight Rider’ crew, as they were filming or preparing to film the scene on the trestle bridge.
“According to eyewitnesses, the train was almost as wide as the trestle bridge and approaching at a rapid speed.
“The only viable means for the crew on the trestle bridge to escape the path of the oncoming train was to run southwest, to get off of the bridge and off to the side of the railroad tracks. This required the crew to run toward the train, which was coming from the northeast.
“While the crew had been told that they would have 60 seconds to remove themselves, the equipment, and the hospital bed from the trestle bridge, the train approached with a rapid speed, and the crew had less than 60 seconds to react.
“Several members of the crew, including Sarah, were not able to escape the path of the oncoming train, and some crew members, equipment, and the hospital bed remained on the trestle bridge as the train approached.
“The resulting train collision and the flying debris caused Sarah’s death.”
Jones’ parents claim the producers and those assisting them failed to take minimum precautions or comply with industry standards, putting the cast and crew’s lives at risk.
“Specifically, among other things, the ‘Midnight Rider’ defendants, or their agents, representatives, contractors, or employees: selected an unreasonably dangerous site for the filming location; failed to secure approval for filming from CSX; concealed their lack of approval from CSX from the cast and crew; failed to secure and patrol the filming location; failed to station safety personnel at the filming location; failed to station ‘look-out’ individuals to watch for an approaching train; failed to hold a safety meeting prior to filming; failed to have an on-site medic present for the filming; failed to secure the presence of a CSX representative for the filming; failed to warn of the danger presented by the filming location; and otherwise failed to take measures to protect the safety of the ‘Midnight Rider’ cast and crew.”
Rayonier misinformed the production team about the oncoming trains, putting them at risk, according to the lawsuit.
As for CSX, the parents claim, it never took steps to remove the “Midnight Rider” cast and crew from the tracks, despite various train operators passing them that day.
“They did so many wrong things on so many levels, it’s just unbelievable,” Jones’ father told The Associated Press in an April 10 interview. “This should not have happened. It’s senseless.”
Producers suspended work on the movie indefinitely after the accident. William Hurt, who was to star as Allman and was at the scene of the crash, later issued a statement saying he informed producers he would no longer work on the film, according to The Associated Press.
The Joneses seek punitive damages for negligence and wrongful death.
They are represented by Jeffrey Harris with Harris Penn Lowry, of Atlanta.
A spokesperson for CSX declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Open Road Films, which was to distribute the film, issued the following statement: “This event was a horrible tragedy and our deepest condolences go out to the Jones family, the crew members and others who have suffered. Open Road Films was not involved in the production in any way at any time and we have been named in this suit without justification.”
Unclaimed Freight Productions did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Allman sued Unclaimed Freight earlier this month to win back the film rights to his life story. The singer dropped the lawsuit last week after he and the producer reached an agreement out of court.
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