Midnight Rider director Randall Miller, who was sentenced to prison for the tragic on-set death of camera assistant Sarah Jones, has penned a statement taking responsibility for the train accident and revealing the circumstances that led him to plead guilty. The filmmaker behind the Gregg Allman biopic said the incident atop a railway trestle in rural Georgia “was a horrible tragedy that will haunt me forever” and that “my decision to shoot the scripted scene that caused this tragedy.”
After pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing stemming from the February 2014 incident, as per the terms of his plea agreement, Miller was sentenced to 10 years in prison, of which he’ll only serve two years behind bars at the Wayne County, Georgia jail, followed by eight years of probation. Miller was also banned from being in charge of a film crew for the next 10 years.
Although Miller says he wasn’t the only one to blame for the accident, adding that much of the crew, from the location manager and production designer to the cinematographer and assistant director also “made mistakes,” “I have taken responsibility because I could have asked more questions, and I was the one in charge,” the AP reports.
Miller initially entered a plea of not guilty and reiterated his innocence, but just as the trial was set to begin, he stunningly changed course. “I pleaded guilty for three reasons: first, to protect my wife and family; second, out of respect for the Jones family and to not put them through a difficult trial; and, third, to take responsibility for my failure in not knowing that every safety measure was in place.” As part of Miller’s guilty plea, the case against his wife Jody Savin, who also served as Midnight Rider producer and co-writer, was dropped.
Deadline reports that Miller is the first filmmaker in motion picture history to go to prison for a film shoot-related death. Director John Landis was similarly charged with involuntary manslaughter for the 1982 death of actor Vic Morrow on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie, but a jury ultimately acquitted Landis and his production team of all charges.
In addition to Jones’ death, six people were injured after Miller opted to shoot a dream sequence scene atop a railway trestle without permission. Miller and his location manager were told that two trains passed through the bridge daily. After the second train passed, Miller and his crew set up their shot; however, a third train barreled down the rails, giving the crew and cast – including actor William Hurt in the role of Allman – little time to escape. Production on the film has halted since the tragedy as Allman sued producers in order to prevent the biopic from continuing.
Read Miller’s entire statement:
On Feb 20th, 2014, a great number of mistakes were made and the terrible accident occurred which took Sarah Jones’ life. It was a horrible tragedy that will haunt me forever. Although I relied on my team, it is ultimately my responsibility and was my decision to shoot the scripted scene that caused this tragedy.
I pleaded guilty for three reasons: first, to protect my wife and family; second, out of respect for the Jones family and to not put them through a difficult trial; and, third, to take responsibility for my failure in not knowing that every safety measure was in place.
The location manager, the production designer, the unit production manager, the cinematographer, assistant director and others all made mistakes that led to this, but I have taken responsibility because I could have asked more questions, and I was the one in charge. I have worked in the film industry as a director for 25 years and never had a significant accident of any kind on any one of my sets.
I am heartbroken over this. I hope my actions have spared the Jones family more anguish and that the on-set safety measures that were lacking before this terrible tragedy will now take precedence for all in the industry.”