By Brian Ives
Production on the Georgia set of the Gregg Allman biopic, Midnight Rider, has been shut down in the wake of an on-set accident that killed crew member Sarah Jones, a 27-year-old assistant camera operator. The accident also injured seven others.
The incident took place on February 20, while the crew was shooting a sequence on railroad tracks, and is currently the subject of a homicide investigation.
According to Variety, a spokesman for Rayonier, the paper company that owns the land surrounding the rail line at the site of the accident, confirmed that they had given permission for the film shoot to take place on its property. But even though a sign on the property states that access to the tracks is controlled by Rayonier guards, the paper company is not technically allowed to give permission for the crew to be on the tracks because they are owned by the railroad company CSX.
The alternative weekly paper, Connect Savannah reports that Wayne County detective Joe Gardner said that the railroad claimed it did not give permission to shoot on the tracks, which means that the filmmakers were shooting there illegally.
Filming on live railroad tracks typically requires strict permits from the railroad owner, which provides train schedules and re-routes trains ahead of time, if necessary. In addition, “spotters” with walkie-talkies are utilized to warn the crew if a train is approaching.
A well known cinematographer, Haskell Wexler, said in an open letter to the film industry (via Variety) that the deceased and injured “were not victims of an ‘accident’ but of criminal negligence. Something that would not have happened if proper safety rules were in place.”
There’s currently a campaign to have Sarah Jones included in the “In Memoriam” segment at the Oscars this Sunday.