Midnight Rider is an uncompleted American biographical drama film. Director Randall Miller co-wrote the screenplay with Jody Savin, based on the autobiography My Cross to Bear by the singer Gregg Allman. Miller and Savin were the producers.The film was to star William Hurt, Tyson Ritter, Zoey Deutch, Eliza Dushku, and Wyatt Russell.
On February 20, 2014, the first day of filming, the crew was on an active railroad trestle bridge, high over the Altamaha River in Wayne County, Georgia. Due to criminal negligence by the producers of the film, second camera assistant Sarah Jones was killed when she was struck by a CSX freight train that arrived on the trestle. Seven other crew members were also hurt, one seriously. Production was suspended the following week, and multiple investigations into the incident were undertaken. Miller, Savin, executive producer Jay Sedrish, and first assistant director Hillary Schwartz were charged with involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass, as well as being cited by OSHA for “serious” and “willful” safety violations.
Miller and Sedrish entered guilty pleas to felony involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing, while charges were dropped against Savin as part of Miller’s plea. Miller received a sentence of ten years, of which he was expected to serve two years in jail followed by probation On March 10, 2015 Schwartz pleaded guilty to felony involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass, and was also sentenced to 10 years probation.
Hillary Schwartz also filed a workers’ compensation claim and alleged a psychiatric industrial injury as a result of this incident. Last December a Finding and Award found that she sustained an industrial injury to her psyche on February 20, 2014, while employed as a first assistant director, finding against defendant’s affirmative defense under Labor Code section 3600(a)(8) which precludes awarding benefits where injuries were caused by the commission of a felony. Schwartz was awarded temporary disability and further medical treatment, and all other issues were deferred.
The Defendant’s petition for reconsideration was denied in the split panel decision of Schwartz v Ease Entertainment. A Petition for Writ of Review has been filed with the Court of Appeal case number B271708. The Court has not yet acted on the Petition filed last April.
Evidence at the workers’ compensation trial showed that Schwartz accepted a plea agreement under the Georgia First Offender Act whereby she would be found guilty of the charges and would be placed on probation for ten years. Upon the successful completion of her probation, there would be no entry of judgment and no adjudication of guilt.
Pursuant to this agreement, a Bench Trial in the criminal case was held on March 10, 2015, in the Superior Court of Wayne County, State of Georgia. After reviewing the evidence the trial Judge said I “find you guilty in Count of criminal trespass and guilty in Count 5 of involuntary manslaughter.” The Judge approved applicant’s “First Offender Petition,” which states that the Court entered a verdict of guilty to the offenses and that “no judgment has been entered and no adjudication of guilt has been made.” The Petition further states: “Defendant hereby consents to the Court’s withholding the entry of a judgment of guilt, deferring adjudication, and deferring further proceedings, placing her on probation as provided by O.C.G.A. §42-8-60.”
As a result the WCJ concluded that under a strict interpretation of the language of section 3600(a)(8), a conviction is required to bar a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. In view of the deferral of applicant’s prosecution after a finding of guilt by the Court, the WCJ concluded that the requirement that applicant’s injury be caused by the commission of a felony for which she was “convicted” has not been met. The WCAB agreed with this reasoning and denied reconsideration of the Award. Essentially both reasoned that technically there was no “judgment” of a felony as required by the Labor Code should she successfully complete the terms of her probation under the First Offender Law.
Commissioner Razo dissented. He reasoned that “as a consequence of applicant’s conduct, she was determined by a Superior Court Judge to have committed acts which constitute a felony. The Judge found applicant guilty of criminal trespass and involuntary manslaughter in the death of Sarah Jones. This finding constitutes applicant’s conviction of a felony, which under Labor Code section 3600(a)(8), bars her claim for workers’ compensation benefits for an injury to her psyche arising out of her felonious conduct. That applicant was subsequently accorded leniency in her sentencing does not obviate the fact that she was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. I would therefore grant defendant’s Petition for Reconsideration and find applicant’s claim is barred.”