'Midnight Rider' Director: Georgia Train Crash 'Ultimately My Responsibility'
The director of an ill-fated movie about singer Gregg Allman said Friday (March 20) that it's "ultimately my responsibility" that his crew ended up on a Georgia railroad bridge in the path of a freight train that killed a camera assistant.
Midnight Rider director Randall Miller issued a statement to The Associated Press less than two weeks after he pleaded guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing. A judge sentenced him to two years in jail in rural Wayne County, where 27-year-old Sarah Jones of Atlanta died in the train crash Feb. 20, 2014. Six others also were injured.
"It was a horrible tragedy that will haunt me forever," Miller said in a statement provided to The AP by a publicist. "Although I relied on my team, it is ultimately my responsibility and was my decision to shoot the scripted scene that caused this tragedy."
Miller said he hoped his guilty plea had spared Jones' family from the anguish of having to relive the crash at a trial. But he also denied he alone was to blame. He said "a great number of mistakes were made" by his assistants on the film crew, but acknowledged that he had failed to ensure "every safety measure was in place."
"I have taken responsibility because I could have asked more questions and I was the one in charge," Miller said.
Prosecutors said they had emails from CSX Transportation, which owns the railroad bridge spanning the Altamaha River, showing Miller's crew had twice been denied permission to film a scene on the tracks where the crash occurred.
Miller pleaded guilty March 9, the day a jury was to be selected for his trial. Assistant District Attorney John B. Johnson said Miller and others knew they had been denied permission to access the railroad trestle because they attempted to rewrite the script to drop the scene they planned to shoot with actor William Hurt -- in the role of Allman -- in a hospital bed placed on the tracks.
Miller decided to shoot the scene anyway, Johnson said, after the owner of the property surrounding the tracks said the movie crew could access its land. He said Miller and his crew went onto the railroad bridge after mistakenly thinking no more trains would pass that day.
Jay Sedrish, the movie's executive producer, also pleaded guilty and assistant director Hillary Schwartz was convicted after opting for the judge to decide her case in a short bench trial. Both were sentenced to 10 years on probation for the same charges Miller faced.
Miller also was sentenced to serve eight years on probation following his jail term and was ordered to pay a $20,000 fine. He said he pleaded guilty in part to protect his wife and business partner, Jody Savin, and their children. Charges against Savin were dropped as a condition of her husband's guilty plea.
"Our children and I love Randy so much and are trying to be strong for him as he has been so strong and brave for us," Savin said in a brief statement.
Miller's previous films included Bottle Shock and CBGB. The Midnight Rider project has been in limbo since the train crash. Allman sued Miller last year to prevent the director from reviving the movie. They settled out of court and terms were not disclosed.