UPDATE: A judge has found Midnight Rider’s first assistant director, Hillary Schwartz, guilty of criminal trespass and involuntary manslaughter after a brief hearing, according to Variety. He sentenced her to 10 years probation. She must also pay a $5,000 fine and is prohibited from working as producer, director, first assistant director or any other job overseeing safety.
Following the death of camera assistant Sarah Jones on the Georgia set of the Gregg Allman biopic Midnight Rider, director Randall Miller and the film’s primary producers were charged with involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass stemming from Jones being struck by a train during the unauthorized shoot. Miller had initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, but in a surprising turn of events, the director has now changed his plea to guilty.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the director accepted a 10-year sentence that includes two years in a Wayne County prison followed by eight years’ probation, during which time he will be barred from being in charge of a film crew. Another provision of the deal was that Miller’s wife Jody Savin, who co-produced Midnight Rider, would have all charges against her dismissed.
“We agree at this time the state could establish the essential elements of the crime,” Miller’s lawyer Ed Garland told the trial judge on Monday in Georgia after switching Miller’s plea. Midnight Rider executive producer Jay Sedrish also received a 10-year probation, but no jail time. Jones’ father Richard Jones said in a statement, “I do not seek revenge, but rather I seek healing for all involved, including those responsible for my daughter’s death,” the Hollywood Reporter writes.
Despite initially being listed as an executive producer of the film, no criminal charges were ever filed against Allman, who later sued filmmakers to prevent the project from continuing after Jones’ death. While Allman was also among the producers listed in numerous lawsuits following the train accident, all plaintiffs eventually dismissed the rocker and his manager Michael Lehman from their suits. “We know that this news doesn’t bring Sarah back. This was a terrible tragedy. Sarah’s memory must be an ongoing testament to film safety,” Allman said at the time.
Production on Midnight Rider ceased and actor William Hurt abandoned his role of Allman after Jones was killed last February. The crew was filming a dream sequence atop a railroad trestle in Jesup, Georgia without permission.
Miller was originally told that only two trains passed through the elevated trestle each day. After the second train had passed, the filmmaker instructed his crew to set up the unauthorized shoot on the tracks. However, a third train emerged, giving the crew little time to escape. Jones was struck by the train and killed, while six other crewmembers were injured.
The Midnight Rider trial was to be the first court case where a filmmaker faced criminal charges for a crew member’s death since actor Vic Morrow was killed on the set of 1982’s The Twilight Zone: The Movie. Director John Landis was ultimately acquitted of manslaughter charges in that case following a nine-month trial.