Post and Courier
September 21, 2014

Charleston film vets part of Allman biopic film crew hit by train

Posted: 02/21/2014 09:38 a.m.
Updated: 02/24/2014 04:33 p.m.


By Adam Parker

The film crew involved in a fatal train accident Thursday in Georgia included two people with Charleston connections.

The crew, affiliated with Savannah-based Meddin Studios, was filming a scene on a bridge near Jesup, Ga., for the Gregg Allman biopic "Midnight Rider" when a CSX freight train unexpectedly appeared, killing camera assistant Sarah Elizabeth Jones, 27, and injuring seven, including Joyce Gilliard, according to reports.

Jones, an Atlanta resident and College of Charleston graduate, worked on the "Army Wives" television series and also was part of the "Vampire Diaries" crew. She graduated in 2009 with a degree in communication and a minor in film. Read her obituary here.

Gilliard is a hair and makeup stylist and Lowcountry resident who also has worked on "Army Wives," filmed in Charleston.

Detective Joe Gardner of the Wayne County Sheriff's Office confirmed that one person died and another was airlifted to a nearby hospital.

"Several people from Open Road films and the Meddin Studios from Savannah, Ga., filming a movie called 'Midnight Rider' in the area had gotten onto the train tracks. A northbound train struck some of these persons," Gardner said in a statement. "One of the injured was flown to a Savannah hospital while others were taken to Wayne Memorial Hospital for treatment."

The deadly collision took place at a railroad trestle that crosses the Altamaha River in the rural county about 60 miles southwest of Savannah. The tracks, owned by CSX Railroad, cross private land owned by forest-products company Rayonier, which has a nearby paper mill.

Gardner, the lead detective on the case, said the crew had Rayonier's permission to film on its property next to the train tracks. "CSX has told me they were aware they were out there, but they did not have permission to be on the train tracks," Gardner told reporters.

Trespassing onto railroad tracks is illegal under Georgia law and punishable as a misdemeanor.

A message left for Meddin Studio's head of publicity Friday was not returned.

CSX issued a statement saying the railroad company was "deeply saddened" by the crash and cooperating with investigators. It provided no further details other than to say the train involved was traveling to Savannah from Memphis, Tenn.

A CSX spokeswoman, Kristin Seay, declined to comment further and would not confirm that film crew had no permission from the railroad to be working on the train tracks.

Gardner said the accident happened after the crew had placed a bed on a set of railroad tracks in preparation for shooting a scene. When the freight train approached, the crew scrambled to clear the tracks. Jones was struck, and others were injured by flying debris.

Gardner said it wasn't clear if crew members were actually on the trestle bridging the river or just on the tracks at the river's edge. He said the train smashed some of the crew's equipment, and it's possible some of the injuries were caused by flying debris.

It also wasn't clear if the film crew was waiting to film a train or was caught unaware by one approaching, Gardner said.

"That's a very active train track," he said. "There's probably anywhere from up to 10 trains a day that go through on those tracks."

Production of "Midnight Rider," starring actor William Hurt as the Allman Brothers singer in his later years and All-American rejects vocalist Tyson Ritter as a young Allman, began this month in coastal Georgia. The film is based on Allman's 2012 memoir, "My Cross to Bear."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.