Exclusive Interview With Parents of 'Midnight Rider' Victim Sarah Jones
Jones' mother, Elizabeth, tells THR, "A dollar mark cannot be put on stealing a shot at the risk of someone's life."
The night before she was killed on the set of Midnight Rider: The Gregg Allman Story, camera assistant Sarah Jones sent text messages to her father expressing concerns about the production she was about to begin work on, her parents reveal in an exclusive interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "She was a little nervous," says Richard Jones. "She made a comment that some of the people asking her questions should have known more than her."
Jones died Feb. 20 when she was struck and killed by a train during preproduction on the Gregg Allman biopic. The accident occurred on a train trestle over the Altamaha River in Wayne County, Ga. (For a detailed account of the accident, click here.)
The full transcript of the interview with Richard and Elizabeth Jones follows.
When did you last speak with Sarah?
Richard: I did speak to her at length the evening before the shoot. She did make some comments that she was a little bit surprised. She was going to start filming and she did make some comments about it being low-budget, and she was a little nervous about a few things. She was excited about meeting and working with William Hurt. That's the last text I received from her.
What did she say?
Richard: She did comment that she was in the studio that day seeing about things, and it was her first day on the job that she was killed. In the studio, she'd made some mention about a low budget and she made a comment that some of the people asking her questions should have known more than her and she thought that was odd. But I don't want to misstate anything. I don't know.
You said she texted you. Do you mind sharing what she said?
Richard: It was Feb. 19th, at night. She wrote, "I'm most excited about meeting William Hurt, I like him." I wrote back and said, "I like him too." And then we lost connection. Ironically, I wrote back a short text, and said, "Lost you." That was at 7:57 p.m. Of course, I meant that I had lost reception with her, not, you know, that I had lost my daughter.
Have the directors and producers reached out to you with an explanation or an apology?
Richard: On the 20th, [director] Randall Miller called us to inform us of the accident. We had just heard it from someone else, the coroner I think, that informed us just before that. The calls were close together. Randy Miller was shaken, very, very upset. He apologized many times. I don't really know myself what part Randy Miller played in this. But he was very upset that day. He was saying he was so sorry.
Courtesy Richard and Elizabeth Jones
Have you heard from them since?
Richard and Elizabeth (both speaking): No, we haven't heard from any producer or director since.
Can you tell us about Sarah?
Richard: You've heard most of what people said. That was her. She was truly a wonderful person, she was driven to do a lot of things, energetic. We loved her very much.
Elizabeth: She always reached out to people if they needed a friend. She went out of her way, really went out of her way to help them.
Richard: In the industry when she first started, I told her, "Don't be afraid to go ask the old guys, go ask them, 'Show me how to do this.' They'll tell you." And she did. They were all very good to her. They mentored her and she mentored others. A lot of the people she worked with were big brothers and fathers to her; they took her under their wing and showed her how to do things.
What was she like as a little girl?
Richard: She was full of energy, determined. She was driven to always do something new, she liked to adventure. She liked to dress up as Pippi Longstocking; she would always dress up with pipe cleaners.
Elizabeth: She was an avid reader, lifeguard, scuba. She had a motorcycle license. She loved the outdoors, skiing, traveling. She went to Alaska, she backpacked across Germany with her brother, went to Costa Rica, Greece. She was an active gymnast.
Richard: We are a very close family; she and her brother and sister were very close and kept in touch constantly. We have a close-knit family, thank goodness we do -- we've needed it here.
Elizabeth: She had a camera at a young age and was always filming her brothers and sisters. She was making movies from a young age. She'd make her sister roll down the stairs.
Have you learned details about what happened?
Elizabeth: I don't want to visualize what happened. I've chosen to believe that God wrapped his arms around her and lifted her from pain and suffering. I have to believe that in order to get through with all this.
Richard: We realize that some of the description of what happened will come out. I've already heard a few things. I was in the train industry for a decade; I've seen films and things happen like that. I understand it's a horrible thing. I can't imagine -- my heart goes out to these people who witnessed this as well as this train engineer. I know they have a very hard time when something like this happens.
Elizabeth: Knowing Sarah, her concern was saving equipment before saving herself. She was responsible for her equipment, and it was in her interest in saving the equipment. She may well have had that in mind, not realizing the immediate danger. Whatever comes from this, it has to be something positive, so that her life will not be wasted in vain. All the energy and devotion and love that she had, it can't be in vain.
Courtesy Richard and Elizabeth Jones
The outpouring of grief has been tremendous.
Richard: We are both overwhelmed with the response, the love and the condolences from the public. It's overwhelming, that one person's life can make such a difference, it's incredible. It's part of therapy. It's helping us get through this whole ordeal. It does offer some level of comfort to have so much support. It's good to think that it appears that this will make a difference. That there won't be other … that maybe it will save somebody else's daughter.
Richard, you played a beautiful song for Sarah at her memorial in Columbia.
Richard: I'd written "Andy's Song" for my father, who'd be 96 this Friday. And that was the last song Sarah ever asked me to play. I played it four weeks ago, when Atlanta got snowed in, and there were traffic jams, it was our first snow in the Southeast. I was flying back from Texas and got stuck in Atlanta. I thought, well, I may as well go see my daughter, and that was the last time I saw her. One of her roommates had an electric piano, so I played on it.
Would you like to share anything else?
Elizabeth: You know they were shooting a dream sequence on those tracks. But instead of a dream sequence, we call it a nightmare sequence. This is not all about Sarah; it addresses a much, much bigger problem. The value of a dollar cannot be put on Sarah's life, the way that directors and producers put a dollar value on a movie. Everything she did was in a big way and this is a testament to her love of the camera and making a difference after everything is said and done.
You're talking about the bigger problem of safety on movie sets?
Elizabeth: Yes, the problem of safety in the industry. I understand from people in the industry that safety is oftentimes compromised in order to steal a shot, and a dollar mark cannot be put on stealing a shot at the risk of someone's life.
Scott Johnson, a former Newsweek correspondent, is the author of The Wolf and the Watchman: A CIA Childhood.
Follow him @scott_c_johnson