Guilty plea avoids trial for “Midnight Rider” director

“Midnight Rider” director Randall Miller has reached a plea deal that will avoid trial and absolve his wife and business partner, Jody Savin, in the filming set train wreck that killed crew member Sarah Jones, the Associated Press reported. 

The 27-year-old Jones died in February 2014 while working on a Jesup film set. A scene in the movie about rocker Gregg Allman was situated on a train trestle where filmmakers did not have permission to be.

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In pleading guilty Monday to involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing, Miller received a sentence of two yeas in jail and eight on probation, in addition to a $20,000 fine, the AP reported.

Prosecutors agreed to drop charges against Savin, the AP reported.

Executive producer Jay Sedrish also pleaded guilty and got 10 years on probation. Charges are still pending against a fourth “Midnight Rider” defendant, assistant director Hillary Schwartz, the AP reported.

Last year Jones’ parents settled a lawsuit filed against numerous plaintiffs involved with the case.

A statement issued on their behalf at the time said a confidential agreement had been reached between Richard and Elizabeth Jones and Unclaimed Freight Productions, Inc.; Randall Miller; Jody Savin; Charles Baxter; Jay Sedrish; Jay Sedrish, Inc.; Don Mandrik; Hillary Schwartz; Mike Ozier; Epozier Films, Inc.; and Rayonier Performance Fibers, LLC.”

Jones’ untimely death spurred an industrywide call for change. A grass-roots “Slates for Sarah” campaign honored her by placing her name on movie and television production slates on projects including the locally shot television series “The Vampire Diaries” and the movie “A Walk in the Woods,” in addition to big and small screen productions nationwide.

Jones also was recognized as part of the “In Memoriam” segment of the 2014 Academy Awards.

After Monday’s plea deal announcement, Richard Jones, addressed reporters outside the Wayne County Courthouse.

“We hope the sacrifice of our daughter’s life will continue to change the film industry,” he said. “I believe it sends a message, frankly, that if you do not respect those you’re in charge of, you may end up behind bars.”

Steven Poster, president of the International Cinematographers Guild Local 600, issued this statement:

“There were no winners today. Randall Miller’s sentencing in the case involving the tragic death of IATSE Local 600 camera assistant Sarah Jones is nothing to be happy about. But the quick conclusion to the case does provide some small sense of closure following last year’s tragedy, and helps continue the healing process for Jones’ family, friends, and fellow crew members.

We cannot comment on the specifics of the legal proceedings, but we hope this sentencing sends a message to everyone in the industry that the safety measures already in place must be followed at all times. No movie or TV show is worth a life, which is why Safety on Set is our highest priority as a union.

We hope this message gets out to everybody in production — from student or low-budget films to major productions — and that workers recognize their rights to a safe set and safe working conditions at all times. We also hope all crew members will now feel empowered to speak out against unsafe working conditions. That’s why we developed our new safety app that includes the industry-wide safety bulletins and safety hotline numbers. We encourage workers to remember the spirit of Sarah and exercise those rights.”