Leadership

Safety for Sarah: Nonprofit Born from Camera Assistant’s Tragic Death

The 2014 death of a crew member on a film set halted production and launched a safety movement. This week, her parents---founders of the nonprofit Safety for Sarah---won a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against a freight train operator and others found liable in her death.

Sarah Jones was on the set of the film Midnight Rider on February 20, 2014, to help tell rock star Gregg Allman’s life story.

But the tragedy of that day put her own story in the spotlight.

Jones, a camera assistant, was killed when a freight train unexpectedly plowed through the film’s makeshift set on a railroad bridge. The producers had failed to get a permit from CSX to shoot at the location in Georgia. Crew members had only a minute to move once it was apparent a train was coming.

Jones didn’t make it. Eight others suffered injuries.

Production on the film was stopped, and the director, Randall Miller, went to jail after pleading guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing—the first director ever to face jail time over an on-set tragedy. He served one year of a shortened sentence and was released in March 2016. And this week, Jones’ parents won an $11.2 million lawsuit that sought damages from several defendants. According to Deadline, CSX is liable for 35 percent of the total, or $3.92 million.

Jones’ parents have also taken steps to build conversation about safety on film sets. They launched the nonprofit Safety for Sarah, which has galvanized interest in safe on-set practices, with film crew members wearing pins that say “we are Sarah Jones” and modifying film slates to reflect her passing.

“One of the phrases we try to remember is ‘never forget, never again,’” her father, Richard, told Variety last year. “Never forget what happened to Sarah Jones when safety is shoved aside. And let’s do what we can to never let it happen again.”

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times this week, Jones and his wife, Elizabeth, said they hoped to continue their work to promote safety in the industry—an issue that is top of mind in Hollywood after the death of a stuntman July 12 on the set of The Walking Dead.

“It’s hard to say how effective it’s been, but we do hear a lot of feedback and even particular instances where it has made a difference,” Richard Jones told the Times after Monday’s verdict. “Like having proper and thorough safety meetings. They help remind everyone about what happened to Sarah. She has become the voice for many in the industry.”

Film crew member Sarah Jones, who died in 2014. (via the Safety for Sarah website)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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