Railroad safety rules raised in trial over film worker death
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Attorneys accusing a railroad owner of negligence in the death of a movie worker during a 2014 train collision with a trespassing film crew sought Wednesday to use the railroad’s own safety policies against it.
Sarah Jones, 27, was killed by a freight train that slammed into a film crew shooting “Midnight Rider,” a movie about the life of singer Gregg Allman. The crash happened on a Georgia railroad bridge where the crew was filming actor William Hurt in a hospital bed placed on the tracks, though owner CSX Transportation had denied permission to production managers.
But a civil lawsuit by Jones’ parents being tried in Chatham County State Court in Savannah says CSX shares equal blame with production managers who never told Jones and other crew members they were trespassing. They say the railroad should have taken safety precautions to slow the train before the crash Feb. 20, 2014.
Jeffrey Harris, an attorney for Jones’ family, showed the trial jury Wednesday a policy from CSX’s employee rulebook that says train operators must “immediately notify a dispatcher of any unauthorized outside party on a track or right of way.” The policy also states: “Be especially cautious around bridges and tunnels.”
Two CSX trains passed the film crew standing alongside the tracks with an hour before the fatal crash. Neither of those train operators radioed dispatchers to report the filmmakers.
Harris called James Murray, a CSX assistant terminal superintendent, to the witness stand Wednesday. After reviewing the safety policy with Murray, Harris showed him a photograph of the movie crew members standing on either side of the train tracks before the crash.
“Are these people trespassing?” Harris asked.
“Knowing what we know now, yes,” Murray answered.
Harris then asked: “Did anyone call CSX to notify them that these trespassers were on its property?”
Murray replied: “No.”
CSX attorneys have said any evidence that CSX failed to follow internal policies doesn’t prove the railroad was negligent. They insist the full blame lies with the “Midnight Rider” production managers. The ill-fated film’s director, Randall Miller, spent a year in jail after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing.
The jury also saw videotaped testimony by Matthew Stewart, a CSX dispatcher who said he’s been alerted by train crews spotting wayward cows and drunk men wandering too close to the tracks. Stewart said he can respond by ordering nearby trains to slow down and calling authorities near the scene.
Stewart said it’s up to individual train operators to decide what they consider a reportable danger.
Hurt was on the railroad bridge to play the role of the late Allman Brothers Band singer, who died in May. Hurt spent time in the courthouse Tuesday, sitting outside the courtroom. But he was not called to testify in the case Tuesday or Wednesday.