The director of a movie about singer Gregg Allman and two other executives on the project were indicted Thursday on felony charges stemming from a fatal crash in which a freight train plowed into the film's crew in southeast Georgia.
A grand jury in rural Wayne County returned charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing against "Midnight Rider" director Randall Miller, as well as his wife and business partner, Jody Savin, and the film's executive producer, Jay Sedrish.
If convicted, the filmmakers each could face up to 11 years in prison for the Feb. 20 death of Sarah Jones. The 27-year-old camera assistant from Atlanta was killed and six other crew members were struck by a train while shooting footage on a railroad bridge spanning the Altamaha River southwest of Savannah.
Authorities say the train was traveling at 55 mph when it crashed into the crew and a bed that had been placed on the tracks as a movie prop.
Jones' parents, who have filed a civil lawsuit against the three indicted filmmakers and others, stopped short of praising the decision to seek a criminal prosecution.
"Elizabeth and I are comfortable that the authorities were both careful and meticulous in investigating and bringing charges related to the incident that took our daughter's life," Richard Jones, the young woman's father, said in a statement. "We must allow the criminal justice process to proceed unhindered. Our mission remains the same: to ensure safety on all film sets."
Wayne County sheriff's investigators have said filmmakers had permission to be on property surrounding the tracks from the landowner, forest-products company Rayonier, but lacked permission from CSX Railroad to be filming on the actual train tracks.
The indictment charges Miller, Savin and Sedrish with unintentionally causing Jones' death by trespassing onto the railroad bridge. The filmmakers went onto the train trestle even after CSX denied them access, the indictment says.
Donnie Dixon, an attorney for Miller and Savin, said Thursday that he had no comment on the charges. It was not immediately known whether Sedrish had an attorney.
Three civil lawsuits, including the one by Jones' parents, related to the train crash are pending. Miller bristled at the suggestion that he was cavalier about his crew's safety when he took the witness stand during a court appearance in May. He said his assistants were in charge of securing location permits, and that crew members were along the track to look out for trains during filming.
"I did not know it was a live train trestle," Miller said. "We were told there were two trains from Rayonier coming through, and no more trains that day."
Involuntary manslaughter is a felony carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison under Georgia law. Criminal trespass is a misdemeanor punishable by no more than a year in prison.
None of the accused filmmakers, who live in California, have been arrested. They will likely be allowed to travel to Georgia and turn themselves in at a later date, said Joe Gardner, the lead sheriff's investigator in the case.