Railroad settles civil suit in 2014 death of film worker
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A railroad owner settled a wrongful death lawsuit by the family of a film worker killed in 2014 when a train slammed into a crew shooting a movie about singer Gregg Allman, ending the company’s appeal of a $3.9 million jury verdict.
Chatham County State Court records show CSX Transportation reached a confidential settlement of the suit with Sarah Jones’ parents on Jan. 24. The company asked the Georgia Court of Appeals to withdraw its appeal of the jury verdict Monday.
Jones, 27, was a camera assistant on the never-finished movie “Midnight Rider,” based on the life of the Allman Brothers Band singer. A freight train plowed into the crew on a trestle bridge on Feb. 20, 2014, killing Jones and injuring six other crew members.
“We’re relieved that the lawsuit has concluded,” Jones’ father, Richard Jones of Columbia, South Carolina, said Wednesday. He released his statement through the family’s attorneys.
CSX had denied the filmmakers permission to shoot on its property in Wayne County southwest of Savannah. But a jury in July 2017 decided the railroad shared in the blame for the deadly crash even though the film workers were trespassing. Evidence at the trial showed that two CSX trains rolled past while the movie crew stood on both sides of the tracks about an hour before the crash, but the operators of those trains never reported the trespassers to dispatchers.
CSX had no comment on the legal settlement, company spokeswoman Laura Phelps said Wednesday.
During the trial, CSX attorneys blamed the crash entirely on the filmmakers. CSX officials had twice sent production managers emails denying them permission to shoot on the railroad bridge spanning the Altamaha River.
Regardless, film director Randall Miller and his crew dragged a hospital bed onto the trestle and shot footage of actor William Hurt, in the role of Allman, lying in it just before the crash. The train smashed the bed, causing flying shrapnel to injure several crew members. Jones was struck by the train as she tried to flee.
Miller served a year in jail after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing charges related to the crash. Jones’ family also sued the director in civil court, as well as Miller’s production managers and several other defendants. All of them but CSX settled or otherwise resolved their cases before the 2017 trial.
The civil jury found $11.2 million to be the total value of Jones’ life as well as her pain and suffering. The verdict assigned CSX — the only defendant on trial —35 percent of the responsibility for Jones’ death. The railroad appealed its $3.9 million share before agreeing to settle last week.
The crash ended production on “Midnight Rider.” Allman went to court to prevent Miller from reviving the project before the singer died in May 2017.