Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Troubled Bridge

Many people in show business make huge fortunes for one good reason:  they have come up with a way to make huge fortunes by selling entertainment to the rest of us.

And by entertainment, we mean movies, television shows, books, records, and I don't know what-all else that takes our minds off the broken-down Buick, the recalcitrant teenagers, the howling dog from down the street that keeps stealing your laundry off the line.  We watch movies that show people doing heroic things and we just know that we could be Dirty Harry if we had the chance, that we could attract any love we wanted, cure all ills, dance all dances, sing all songs.

It's a wonderful world of make-believe, and it's been good for the country over the years.  Your great-grandparents did not want to sit home every night during the Depression and fret about next month's rent and next week's grocery bill, so they went to the movies two or three times a week, and sat in a theatre where, for their 30-cent ticket, they could see Clark Gable or Carole Lombard or Laurel and Hardy and forget about the real world outside.

But this week, the widely disparate worlds of Hollywood, California, and Jesup, Georgia are converging.  Jesup is where the trial is being held in what's known as the "Midnight Rider" Trial.

Georgia is also the home to the Allman Brothers Band, a group that is no stranger to tragedy and sorrow and death, and those shadows darkened the filming of a movie version of Gregg Allman's autobiography last year when a dream sequence was being filmed on a railroad bridge over the Altamaha River, about five miles from Jesup. The book was entitled "My Cross To Bear," and the movie was to be called "Midnight Rider," after an ABB song.  On the first day of filming, a CSX train traveling at 60 mph came along, and as the moviemakers scrambled to get out of the way, a 27-year-old camera assistant named Sarah Jones was struck and killed.

The producers of the movie did not have permission from the railroad to be filming on that bridge.  The railroad says that, in fact, they had twice told the film company that they would not grant such permission, but they were certainly there that day in February 2014, and Sarah Jones is certainly dead, and now comes the trial to determine who is responsible for that.

Randall Miller is the director of the film, now in suspension.  He, his business partner/wife Jody Savin and executive producer Jay Sedrish are on trial for involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass. All three have pleaded "not guilty."  They could serve up to 11 years if convicted.

Wayne County Superior Court judge Anthony Harrison is hearing the case. Baltimore Ravens fans will remember the man who is defending Miller - he's Ed Garland, of the Atlanta firm Garland Samuel & Loeb.  He defended Ray Lewis in that Superbowl murder trial in 2001.

Miller and Savin say the whole thing was a "horrific accident."

Where it happened
"In the weeks and months that follow when the true facts of the events are revealed, people will know that this was not a crime: we never had criminal intent; we would never knowingly or intentionally put anybody's safety at risk," read the statement from the people who went ahead and filmed on a railroad bridge without permission.

Now, I'm no lawyer, but I guess I'd be a horrible one if I were one, because I don't see any way to say that people who were doing something unsafe on someone else's property are not guilty and responsible for all that happened because of their actions.

The jury will decide where the line is between Hollywood fantasy, in which people pretend, and real life, where trains still run and people should not pretend to have the right to be on their tracks.

UPDATE: Just as the trial began Monday, a plea agreement was reached.  Here is the story from "Variety" -

A plea agreement was reached on Monday in the “Midnight Rider” case in which director Randall Miller was sentenced to two years in jail and executive producer Jay Sedrish was sentenced to 10 years probation.

Each was charged with involuntary manslaughter in the Feb. 20, 2014, death of Sarah Jones in a train accident on the set of the movie “Midnight Rider,” a biopic of singer Gregg Allman. They entered their guilty plea just as jury selection was set to begin at the Wayne County Courthouse.

Miller’s wife, Jody Savin, also faced the same charges, but those were waived as part of the plea deal. One of Miller and Savin’s attorneys, Ed Garland, said that fact weighed heavily in a plea deal, as the couple have two children.

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