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OSHA citation, fine upheld in 'Midnight Rider' death

Posted On: Sep. 18, 2015 12:00 AM CST

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission has upheld a citation and proposed $74,800 fine against the company producing the movie “Midnight Rider” for the death of a 27-year-old camera assistant.

Sarah Jones was killed, and eight other workers were injured on Feb. 20, 2014, while trying to escape an oncoming freight train during the filming of a scene for the movie, a biopic based on the life of musician Gregg Allman, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Wednesday in a statement. Production company Film Allman L.L.C. of Pasadena, California, was cited by OSHA in September 2014 for one willful and one serious safety violation for exposing employees to struck-by and fall hazards.

The incident occurred during the filming of a scene on the tracks of the Doctortown train trestle in Georgia that spans the Altamaha River. The crew on the bridge saw a CSX Corp. train heading toward them and immediately started exiting the tracks, trying to remove set pieces and get off the trestle. However, they were unable to outrun the oncoming train. Ms. Jones was killed, and eight other crew members were injured by debris when the train hit a hospital bed being used as a set piece.

A willful citation was issued for the employer’s failure to provide safety measures to protect employees from moving trains, meaning the violation was committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements or with plain indifference to worker safety and health, according to the agency.

The serious citation was issued for exposing workers to fall hazards while working on a train trestle that was not equipped with safety guardrails or other fall protection measures, meaning there was a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

“Bad management decisions have real and lasting consequences, and when those decisions involve safety, the consequences can be tragic,” Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA’s regional administrator for the Southeast in Atlanta, said in the statement. “The death of Sarah Jones is particularly disheartening because it was entirely preventable.”

“Film Allman’s management blatantly disregarded their obligation to ensure the safety of their crew and cast,” Mr. Petermeyer said. “They were fully aware that the railroad tracks were live, and that they did not have permission to film there. While yesterday’s decision cannot correct or reverse the terrible events of February 2014, we hope that it will serve as a reminder to the film industry that safety has an important, necessary role on every set and in every workplace.”

A spokeswoman for the producers declined to comment.

Director and producer Randall Miller pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing in March and received a 10-year sentence, but is expected to serve two years in prison and eight years on probation, according to the Wayne County District Attorney’s office in Georgia.