By RUSS BYNUM
(SAVANNAH, Ga., AP) — Two filmmakers charged in a train collision that killed a camera assistant while shooting a movie about singer Gregg Allman said Thursday her death “will haunt us forever.” But they insisted they committed no crimes that put their crew in harm’s way.
“Midnight Rider” director Randall Miller and Jody Savin, his wife and business partner, issued a joint statement two weeks after a grand jury indicted them on charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing in southeast Georgia. Their attorney, Don Samuel, said Thursday he entered a not guilty plea on behalf of the California-based couple.
The filmmakers had just begun shooting their movie based on Allman’s life on Feb. 20 when a freight train plowed into their crew on a railroad bridge southwest of Savannah. Six crew members were injured and 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones of Atlanta was killed.
“This devastating loss of Sarah, a young crew member who was just starting out with us, will haunt us forever,” Miller and Savin’s statement said. “Our hearts are broken, our spirits are broken.”
Sheriff’s investigators said the filmmakers climbed onto the train trestle without permission from CSX Railroad, though they had permission from another company to shoot on property it owned surrounding the tracks.
The indictment charges Miller, Savin and Jay Sedrish, an executive producer on the film, with unintentionally causing Jones’ death by trespassing on the railroad bridge. The filmmakers went onto the train trestle even after CSX denied them access, the indictment says.
“When the true facts of the events are revealed, people will know that this was not a crime: we never had criminal intent; we would never knowingly or intentionally put anybody’s safety at risk,” Miller and Savin’s statement said. “This was a horrible tragedy and a horrific accident.”
Sedrish’s attorney, John Ossick Jr., did not immediately return a phone message left after business hours Thursday evening.
A spokeswoman for the law firm representing Jones’ parents — Richard and Elizabeth Jones of Columbia, South Carolina — said they had no comment. Richard Jones has previously said he and his wife were “comfortable that the authorities were both careful and meticulous in investigating and bringing charges” in their daughter’s death.
Involuntary manslaughter is a felony carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison under Georgia law. Criminal trespass is a misdemeanor punishable by no more than a year in prison.
Production on “Midnight Rider” was halted after the crash. Allman filed a civil lawsuit against Miller and Savin seeking to prevent them from restarting the project. They settled out of court without disclosing terms.
Miller directed the 2008 film “Bottle Shock” as well as “Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing & Charm School” in 2005, “Noble Son” in 2007 and “CGBG” last year. He and Savin have an independent production company, Unclaimed Freight Productions, based in Pasadena, California.