Jones was killed and eight other workers were injured while trying to escape an oncoming freight train during the filming of a scene on the tracks of a train trestle in Georgia on Feb. 20, 2014 for the biopic based on the life of musician Gregg Allman. The accident spawned a series of debates over the unspoken dangers crew members face. Jones’ death has been a rallying cry to improve safety on set.
The last time criminal charges were filed in an on-set film production death was almost 30 years ago, when director John Landis and four others were charged with manslaughter in the deaths of actor Vic Morrow and two child extras in a helicopter accident on the set of "The Twilight Zone" film. They were later found not guilty.
Yesterday, the film’s director Randall Miller reversed his not guilty plea to guilty. He was sentenced to two years in jail, a $25,000 fine and agreed not to direct during his probation period. He was also sentenced to 360 hours of community service. As part of the overall plea agreement, charges were dismissed against Jody Savin, Miller’s wife and the film’s producer.
Executive producer Jay Sedrish entered an Alford plea, which the judge accepted. He was given a sentence of ten years probation and a $10,000 fine, with no jail time.
When Schwartz was indicted in September, she pled not guilty. On Tuesday, she waived her right to a jury and received a bench trial.
Wayne County sheriff’s department detective Joe Gardner testified, describing his investigation into the train collision that killed Jones during the film’s production and the safety protocols that Schwartz and her fellow crew members should have followed.
The prosecuting Assistant District Attorney John Johnson played footage of the crew rushing from the train tracks and dragging a bed off the tracks. The bed was being used in a dream sequence with William Hurt. Gardner confirmed that Jones was killed when a piece of the bed on the tracks pushed her in the way of the train.
"There’s nothing the court could do, Ms. Johnson or the DA’s office could do to really bring you justice in this case. This was clearly a tragic accident that caused the death of your daughter and sister and granddaughter," Jackie Johnson, district attorney for the Brunswick judicial circuit, told Jones’ family yesterday.
Last summer, The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the production company behind the film for safety violations.
In a statement, Sarah Jones’ father said, "I do not seek revenge, but rather I seek healing from all those involved, including those responsible for my daughter’s death. At the same time, we cannot send a signal to the film industry that it is OK to disrespect life, to commit such selfish, dangerous acts for the sake of so-called cinematic immunity."