Gregg Allman, Filmmakers Sued Over 'Midnight Rider' Train Death
Singer Gregg Allman was sued Wednesday along with movie producers, a railroad company and others accused of being responsible for the February death of a young camera assistant when a freight train slammed into a film crew in southeast Georgia.
The lawsuit filed in Chatham County State Court by the parents of 27-year-old Sarah Jones targets 10 individuals associated with the film "Midnight Rider," based on the Allman Brothers Band singer's memoir. It also goes after eight corporations including CSX Transportation, which owns the railroad tracks where the crash occurred, and Rayonier Performance Fibers, a subsidiary of forest-products manufacturer Rayonier that owns the land surrounding the crash site.
Filmmakers "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 ... and otherwise failed to take measures to protect the safety of the `Midnight Rider' cast and crew," the lawsuit charges. It was filed on behalf of Jones' parents, Richard and Elizabeth Jones of Columbia, South Carolina.
Allman was named as a defendant in his role as an executive producer. Also included were director Randall Miller, his production company Unclaimed Freight Productions and several of Miller's assistants on the film along with companies assisting with the production.
The lawsuit says Rayonier should be held accountable for allowing the film crew onto its property. It says a company employee wrongly told the crew "only two trains would pass by on the railroad track per day." It says CSX did not give permission for the crew to film on its tracks, but the company knew shooting would be taking place in the area and should have taken precautions.
"Despite the fact that multiple CSX trains passed the `Midnight Rider' cast and crew on February 20, with those individuals in view of the trains' operators, no warning was given to the subsequent train that ultimately caused Sarah's death," the lawsuit said.
CSX spokeswoman Kristin Seay said the company had not seen the lawsuit and had no immediate comment. Miller's attorney, Donnie Dixon, said in an email he was "unaware of any details" and did not comment further.
Russell Schweiss, Rayonier's director of corporate communications, said in an email that the company has not been served with the lawsuit and will address it through the courts.
An attorney and a publicist for Allman did not immediately return phone calls and email messages Wednesday evening.
Production on "Midnight Rider" had just begun Feb. 20 when a freight train crossing the Altamaha River in southeast Georgia slammed into crew members shooting on the railroad bridge. Sarah Jones, a 27-year-old camera assistant from Atlanta, was killed and six other crew members were hurt.
Sheriff's investigators in rural Wayne County, where the crash occurred, say Miller's crew had permission to be on the property abutting the bridge. But investigators say CSX Railroad, which owns the train tracks, denied giving producers a permit to be on the tracks themselves. The train smashed into a metal-framed bed that the film crew had placed across the tracks.
Producers suspended work on the movie indefinitely the following week. Actor 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.
Authorities have yet to decide whether to file criminal charges in the case. Allman, meanwhile, sued Miller and his production company to win back the film rights to his life story. The singer dropped the lawsuit last week after he and the director reached an agreement out of court. Attorneys on both sides declined to reveal the terms.
Jones' parents told The Associated Press in an interview April 10 that the film's producers needlessly put workers at risk the day their daughter was killed. They said they hired attorneys to help them hold someone accountable.
"They did so many wrong things on so many levels, it's just unbelievable," Richard Jones said. "This should not have happened. It's senseless."
During a court hearing in Allman's lawsuit, Miller said his assistants were in charge of location permits and safety precautions. He bristled at any suggestion that he had been cavalier about the crew's safety.
"I was in the middle of the track and I almost died," Miller said.
Allman's attorney said during the same hearing that the singer was distressed by the crash and his reputation had been harmed by his association with the project.