SAVANNAH, Ga. – CSX Transportation twice denied producers of a biographical movie about singer Gregg Allman permission to shoot on its railroad tracks before a freight train slammed into the film’s crew in south Georgia, killing one worker and injuring six, the company said in court documents.
Legal filings in Chatham County State Court mark the first time Florida-based railroad operator CSX has made any publicly available statement about the Feb. 20 crash involving one of its trains and the crew of the movie “Midnight Rider.” Lawsuits have been filed against CSX and the film’s producers by the parents of Sarah Jones, a camera assistant killed in the collision, and two injured crew members. Director Randall Miller and two other top executives on the production have also been indicted on criminal charges.
In its response Tuesday to the Jones family’s lawsuit, attorneys for CSX denied the company was negligent or otherwise responsible for the crash that killed her. The film workers, including actor William Hurt in the role of the Allman Brothers Band singer, was shooting on a railroad bridge spanning the Altamaha River in rural Wayne County when a train travelling 55 mph plowed through them and a hospital bed placed on the tracks as a prop.
The railroad company also sued the film’s producers in the same court for trespassing. CSX Transportation said that days before the crash the filmmakers twice asked for permission to shoot on its train tracks and the company “unequivocally denied each request in writing, citing a company policy which prohibits filming on CSXT’s property due to safety and security reasons.”
The lawsuit said filmmakers decided to trespass onto the railroad’s property “despite knowing that CSXT had twice, in writing, denied them permission.”
Matt Stone, an attorney for Miller and the director’s wife and business partner, Jody Savin, declined to comment Wednesday. So did William Hunter, an attorney for “Midnight Rider” executive producer Jay Sedrish. All three are named as defendants in CSX’s lawsuit, along with Miller and Savin’s production company, Unclaimed Freight Productions. Prosecutors charged Miller, Savin and Sedrish with involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing.
In a prepared statement July 17, Miller and Savin said the crash and Jones’ death “will haunt us forever” and insisted that “we would never knowingly or intentionally put anybody’s safety at risk.”
Sheriff’s investigators have previously said the film producers were denied access to the railroad tracks by CSX, but had permission to be on surrounding property owned by Rayonier, the forest-products manufacturer that has a nearby mill.
The Jones family’s lawsuit says CSX should have taken precautions because it knew the film crew planned to shoot in the area and operators of two passing trains saw the workers before the crash. CSX said its operators saw “unidentified persons” in the area “but not on or immediately near” the tracks.
CSX also said 27-year-old Jones was partly to blame for her own death because she “failed to exercise ordinary and responsible care for her own safety.” A spokeswoman for the family did not immediately return an email seeking comment.