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SAVANNAH, Ga. — Gregg Allman agreed Tuesday drop his lawsuit against movie producers who were making a film about the singer’s life when a freight train plowed into their Georgia crew and killed a camera assistant.
Attorneys for the Allman Brothers Band singer and Unclaimed Freight Productions told a Savannah judge Tuesday they reached an out-of-court agreement a day after Allman’s lawyer grilled film director Randall Miller on the witness stand about the Feb. 20 crash. Attorneys declined to discuss details of the deal, including whether Miller would be able to move forward with reviving the Midnight Rider movie.
“We have come together and reasoned with one another,” Allman attorney David Long-Daniels told the judge. He declined to comment further outside of court, as did Miller’s attorney, Donnie Dixon.
Allman filed suit against the film producers April 28 in Chatham County Superior Court, saying their rights to his life story had lapsed because they failed to meet production deadlines. Long-Daniels said Allman wanted Miller and his production company off the project because the train crash had harmed the singer’s reputation.
Investigators say Miller, his crew and actor William Hurt, who was to star as Allman, were shooting on a railroad bridge spanning the Altamaha River when a train came upon them at 55 mph. The train crashed through a bed set on the tracks as a prop and struck and killed 28-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones, whose family is from West Columbia, South Carolina. Others were injured either by the train or flying debris. Sheriff’s investigators in Wayne County, southwest of Savannah, said the crew did not have a permit from CSX Railroad, which owns the tracks. Local prosecutors are still weighing whether to file criminal charges.
Allman, who had a liver transplant in 2010 and canceled performances in March because of illness, wasn’t in court Monday or Tuesday. His attorney told the judge the 66-year-old singer remains in poor health.
Miller’s testimony during more than an hour on the witness stand Monday marked his first public comments since the crash. He bristled at the suggestion that he had been cavalier about his crew’s safety.
“I was in the middle of the track and I almost died,” he said.
The director also testified that his assistants were in charge of location permits and safety precautions and that Allman, who is suing producers to win back movie rights to his life story, knew about plans to shoot a scene with a bed across the train tracks in the production.
“I read the script to him for four-and-a-half hours on a Monday,” Miller said. “It says there’s a bed in the middle of a track. Again, I hadn’t been to the location. The location was picked a week beforehand.”
When Allman attorney David Long-Daniels asked Miller whether he had written permission from CSX, the director answered: “That’s not my job.” He said crew members were placed along the tracks to look out for trains, but he didn’t know how far away. He said an assistant told crew members on the bridge they would have about 60 seconds to flee if a train came.
“I did not know it was a live train trestle,” said Miller, who insisted the crew had permission to film from paper-products company Rayonier, which has a mill nearby and owns the property surrounding the train tracks. “We were told there were two trains from Rayonier coming through, and no more trains that day.”
Despite the focus on the crash, the claims in Allman’s lawsuit are largely contractual. He says Unclaimed Freight Productions, headed by Miller and his wife, forfeited its rights to the movie by missing a key production deadline that passed when the project was shelved after the crash.
The director’s attorney, Donnie Dixon, argued Allman was trying to back out of the project because of a tragedy and shouldn’t be allowed to.
“Just because the going gets rough, just because it gets inconvenient, that doesn’t mean Mr. Allman can pick up his marbles and go home,” Dixon said.
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James Gordon Meek