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In a 30-minute report at the top of Friday night’s 20/20, ABC News aired video of the final moments before Midnight Rider camera assistant Sarah Jones was struck and killed by a train on the set of the Gregg Allman biopic last February.
Taken from a camera mounted inside the CSX locomotive that was speeding down the track as Jones and other crewmembers tried to escape, the video released today shows Midnight Rider crewmembers and stars William Hurt and Wyatt Russell running away from the tracks, with crewmembers and the bed that had been placed on the tracks still inches away one minute before impact.
The video was played once and then broken down to show the train’s position at various points leading up to the crash. 20/20 notes that the train needed a mile to stop and that 26 seconds before impact the train blows the whistle. Three seconds before impact, Hurt, Russell and two crew members were able to safely make it off the trestle. ABC News also indicates that the bed was what was responsible for Jones’ death, saying it “became a deadly weapon,” when it collided with the train.
“The train hits the bed and the bed flies up and apparently a portion of the hospital bed strikes Sarah and pushes her into the train,” said Jeff Harris, the attorney representing Jones’ parents Richard and Elizabeth in their civil suit against director Randall Miller and other individuals and organizations affiliated with the production.
“The shrapnel, it apparently hit her and caused her to knock her into the train,” Richard Jones said.
20/20‘s report also included photos from the shoot, including one of Hurt lying on a bed on the train tracks, explaining that the dream sequence involved Allman lying in his hospital bed seeing his late brother Duane Allman across the bridge. Hurt was playing Gregg Allman in the film before dropping out after Jones’ death. And ABC aired the 911 call from the set, in which someone is heard requesting an ambulance, saying “someone got hit by a train.”
After the train went past, hairstylist Joyce Gilliard, who was injured by the train, recalled seeing Jones’ lying dead beside the tracks, saying “you didn’t know it was her,” and breaking down in tears during her interview.
“At first it was like a quiet, like people were in shock at what happened,” Gilliard said. “I remember hearing somebody say ‘Oh my gosh, she’s dead.’ “
Jones’ parents recall how they learned that their daughter had died, with her mom, Elizabeth, saying that she received a phone call from one of Jones’ friends with the friend saying “Sarah’s no longer here.”
“What do you mean? You mean as in dead?” Jones’ mother said.
“Yes, ma’am,” the friend replied.
Miller called the Joneses hours later, according to ABC News.
Both of Jones’ parents seem to feel strongly that those who put their daughter’s life in jeopardy need to be punished for what they did.
“The people who made poor choices that day need to be held fully accountable,” Richard Jones said. “It’s clear that certainly the producers and the director, they messed up real bad.”
Harris alleges that the filmmakers knew they didn’t have permission from CSX to be on the tracks but decided to try to get the shot anyway.
“You don’t shoot on a railroad track unless you have permission to be there,” the lawyer said. “I think they said, ‘We don’t have actual permission but ultimately we’re just going to try to steal this shot.’ “
Similarly, Gilliard, who is also suing Miller and others involved with the film, feels the filmmakers pushed the limits to get the shot they wanted.
“They wanted to get the shot, so whatever it took to get the shot is what they did,” Gilliard said. “The entire crew was put in a situation where we all had to basically run for our lives.”
20/20 showed the scar on Gilliard’s arm left by the incident and she recalled that Miller visited her in the hospital when she was recovering from the accident and didn’t say anything but just cried.
ABC’s weekly newsmagazine also aired video of Miller’s deposition from the civil suit filed against him by Allman, which was reportedly settled a day after Miller was deposed. In that footage, Miller is shown repeatedly saying “that’s not my job” when asked various questions about why he didn’t know that there could be a train barreling down on his crew.
Miller and producer Jody Savin‘s attorney released a statement to ABC News on Friday that reads in part, “They believed they had permission to be on the tracks from Rayonier [which owns the land around the tracks] and CSX. They had no reason to believe that anyone would be placed in danger. They will live with the sorrow of Sarah’s death for the rest of their lives.”
20/20 also spoke to railroad safety expert and film consultant Art Miller, who pointed out that there’s no freight train schedule, so filmmakers had no way of knowing when a train would be coming down the track: “It’s a day-to-day thing. There’s not such a thing as a freight train schedule that approximates what say a major airline might publish,” Miller said.
And, sadly, the newsmagazine says they found a train trestle just a few hours away from the live tracks where Jones’ death occurred where an on-site official was able to shut down the tracks so the ABC show could film.
20/20 also talked to the cast and crew of The Vampire Diaries, where many of the stars knew Jones well because she did the slate before filming began.
Nina Dobrev, Ian Somerhalder and others all shared fond memories of Jones, with Somerhalder calling her his “cosmic sister.”
When they learned of Jones’ death, just hours after it happened, they were shocked and angry.
“I’ve been working as an actor pretty much nonstop for 15 years and I’ve never experienced anything like that where everyone just went home and cried,” Paul Wesley said. “I wanted to know exactly: ‘What do you mean? How? How?’ “
Somerhalder added: “I was angry. Really angry and for them to overlook something that jeopardizes the safety of the people that are working with them is absolutely positively, it’s unacceptable.”
Now on The Vampire Diaries, the first shot of the day is called the “Jonesy” in honor of Sarah Jones.
Tragically, 20/20‘s report also suggests that Jones’ life could have taken a different path, noting that she was hired to work on the seventh Fast & Furious film before filming was postponed in the wake of actor Paul Walker‘s death. She then took the job on Midnight Rider.
Watch Friday night’s 20/20 report below.
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