'Midnight Rider' Trial: Sarah Jones Remembered in Family Statements
The camera assistant liked to paint, write and go to comedy shows with her brother, her family shared in court.
Instead of an acrimonious trial, a Georgia court played host Monday to a tearful tribute to Sarah Jones, the camera assistant killed on the set of Midnight Rider a year ago.
The color of the proceedings, originally scheduled to begin last week, changed when director Randall Miller pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass in Wayne County Superior Court. He received a 10-year sentence — the first two in jail — and a $20,000 fine, while executive producer Jay Sedrish received 10 years’ probation and a $10,000 fine.
Following the director’s plea announcement, district attorney Jackie Johnson called upon Jones’ parents, Richard and Elizabeth, to describe the impact of the train crash that had killed their 27-year-old daughter on the set of Miller’s Gregg Allman biopic.
Her father read from a statement by Eric Jones, Sarah's brother, describing her as "gregarious," "honest" and "inspired." She liked to paint and write poetry, he added. They made movies together when they were young. "When I was down, she always tried to cheer me up with a Seinfeld quote or a funny face or a big hug," the statement continued. "She was a great hugger. She loved to laugh. Our favorite movie to watch was The Big Lebowski. We went to comedy shows together and had a great time. We laughed so hard together."
Her mother described looking through Sarah's belongings after her death. “As I sit on the floor one year after her death, the crate that sits on the floor in front of me is labeled ‘costumes,' " she said. "As a kid Sarah loved to dress up. Pippi Longstocking, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Minnie Mouse. I discovered that as an adult, Sarah still enjoyed dress-up. Her friends tell me that Sarah was quite adept at taking on a character and how much fun Sarah could make any occasion."
In other boxes, Elizabeth Jones found books, from Hemingway and Thoreau to cinematography manuals, and notebooks of Sarah’s writing. “She would write what inspired her," said her mother. "She would write the things she questioned, she would write what she had just learned.”
“Boxes of Sarah’s still sit in my living room," added her mother, mentioning scuba-diving and dirt-biking gear there. "I think about it and smile. One day we’ll sort through her things, but for now, the boxes remain."
Rebecca Jones, Sarah's sister, also had a statement read out loud by their mother. “I miss tickling her arm as we used to do as we lay in bed till she fell asleep, asking her about her experiences and advice, with friends, work and life," the sister had written. "I miss collaborating on the best way to cook Brussels sprouts and bacon. I still feel like I’ll see Sarah at our next family gathering or that she will come to me or I to her to visit."
In the year since Jones’ death, the industry has rallied around her memory in efforts to improve safety on set. The family has been listening.
"I do not seek revenge, but rather I seek healing from all those involved, including those responsible for my daughter’s death. At the same time, we cannot send a signal to the film industry that it is OK to disrespect life, to commit such selfish, dangerous acts for the sake of so- called cinematic immunity," said her father.
“There needs to be accountability. It’s not about payback, it’s about drawing boundaries. It’s about not giving permission to the film industry to be so careless with the safety and lives of their cast and crew," he continued.
"Art requires sacrifice, right? But the truth is, no producer, director, executive or any boss should put their workers in harm’s way for any reason," wrote Sarah's brother. "It seems that now the community understands this more than ever, and their options for speaking out are expanding."
His statement continued, “Sarah is changing the industry at the cost of her own life."