After days of rumors, conjecture and finger-pointing, the office investigating last week’s fatal train accident in Wayne County has issued a preliminary report.
A 20-member crew from Savannah was filming on a narrow train trestle near Jesup on Thursday afternoon when a northbound freight train — apparently unexpected — struck a prop mattress they was put on the track for a scene about a dream.
Sarah Jones, 27, an assistant camera operator, was part of the crew for the movie “Midnight Rider.” In the scramble to get out of the way, she was killed by flying debris. At least eight other crew members were injured. Producer/director Randall Miller was pulled from the tracks by another crew member at the last minute.
According to an incident report released Monday by the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, railway owner CSX has emails in which it denies the production company access to its tracks.
The exchange was between location manager Charlie Baxter and Carla Groleau of the rail company.
“Midnight Rider” executive producer Jay Sedrish, interviewed by a detective, was asked point-blank if the company had permission to shoot on the tracks and trestle.
“That’s complicated,” he replied.
Wayne County Detective Joe Gardner told reporters a few hours after the accident that Miller’s Unclaimed Freight Productions, which is making the film based on rock legend Gregg Allman’s autobiography, had permission from the Rayonier paper-products company to shoot on its land.
The next day, Gardner was asked if CSX had authorized the use of the tracks for filming.
“CSX has told me they were aware they were out there, but they did not have permission to be on the train tracks,” he said.
With that statement, the floodgates opened. The idea — at the time still unconfirmed by CSX — that producers might have taken their crew onto the tracks, without stringent safety checks, to “grab the shot,” produced waves of outrage through Georgia’s tightly knit film community.
Filming on live railroad tracks requires permits from the line owner, which provides train schedules and re-routes trains ahead of time, if necessary. The movie industry has standard safety guidelines for such things.
It’s a dangerous business under the best of circumstances.
Miller and the Unclaimed Freight staff did not respond to interview requests.