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Prosecutors: Landis Flouted Law in Zeal to Film Realistic ‘Twilight Zone’

July 21, 1986

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Director John Landis flouted a wall of legal protections in his zeal to make ″Twilight Zone: The Movie″ a realistic film, say prosecutors trying him on charges of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of three actors.

Landis, whose best-known credits include ″Animal House,″ ″The Blues Brothers″ and ″Trading Places,″ and four film crew members are charged with involuntary manslaughter in the July 23, 1982, deaths of Vic Morrow and child performers Renee Chen, 6, and Myca Le, 7.

The three died when a helicopter flying through special-effects explosions crashed onto them during filming. The scene required Morrow and the two children to run through a mock Vietnamese village on a set 40 miles from here.

The charges against Landis, special effects coordinator Paul Stewart, associate producer George Folsey, production manager Dan Allingham and pilot Dorcey Wingo are unprecedented in Hollywood history. Landis, Wingo and Stewart face up to six years in prison if convicted, while the others could receive a maximum of five years.

Superior Court Judge Roger Boren has said several pretrial motions would be taken up during opening trial sessions today and Tuesday. Jury selection is due to begin Wednesday - the fourth anniversary of the accident.

The trial has been delayed by a long series of pretrial hearings, motions and legal manuevering.

In documents filed last week, Deputy District Attorney Lea D’Agostino contended Landis was caught in a conflict between ″his zeal to create a realistic movie and those laws, policies and standards designed to make motion pictures safe.

″Between these two forces, something had to yield,″ she said. ″Unfortunately, what gave way was the wall of legal protections erected for the motion picture actor. The wall did not just crumble down in front of the defendants. The defendants engaged in a methodical, organized plan to tear it down.″

Movie industry officials say some good may have come from the movie-set tragedy.

″The ‘Twilight Zone’ incident has made the employers and the unions more safety conscious,″ said Art Melli, business representative for Local 728 of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees.

″We say, ’This is the way it should be,‴ said Melli, who also sits on the Industry Wide Labor Management Safety Committee, established shortly after the accident.

″Accidents have decreased, and rightfully so, because the public awareness of what’s going on has made them more cautious,″ he said.

Shortly after Morrow and the children were killed, the Screen Actors Guild began a running tally of accidents and deaths on movie sets. Results are not available to the public.

″The industry is basically very safety conscious,″ said Chief Gordon Pearson of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, who also sits on the county’s Film Commission. ″We get calls constantly from special effects coordinators who want our movie location inspector to come out and take a look at a new idea.″

The Directors Guild of America has instituted a safety hotline where directors on location can telephone to receive qualifications of stunt people and special effects experts. They are supposed to be licensed.

The Industry Wide Labor Management Safety Committee meets every month and issues safety bulletins dealing with procedures to be used in stunt and special effects work.