On February 20, 2014, the film crew was transported an hour from Meddin Studios to a remote location for what was stated to be a “camera test”. They had permission to film on property that was secured by fencing, owned by Rayonier for mill operations. Running through this property was CSX railroad property, which included the historic Doctortown railroad trestle in Wayne County. CSX claims that the production asked twice for permission to use their property, and was denied both times in writing. Sergeant Ben Robertson later wrote in an incident report, “In my presence, Mr. Sedrish was asked by an employee of CSX if he had permission to be on the trestle or tracks and Mr. Sedrish replied, ‘That’s complicated.'”
Under the direction of producer/director Randall Miller, the crew prepared and started filming a dream sequence involving William Hurt as Allman on a heavy metal hospital bed on this live railroad trestle, high above the Altamaha River. The producers had assured the cast and crew that it was safe to film on the railroad trestle. Even though official shooting of the film was scheduled to begin the following Monday, February 24, in and around Savannah, and February 20 had been referred to as a “camera test”, it seems that the producers intended to shoot a substantial scene without the full crew.
While they were filming, a train came around a corner at 58 mph, giving the cast and crew less than a minute to evacuate from the filming location, a substantial way out onto the trestle. The only escape route was toward the oncoming train. Video of the crew indicates that they were unaware how fast it was approaching; some attempted to remove camera equipment and the metal bed from the trestle. They failed to remove the bed before the train rolled through, and many of the crew were trapped out on the trestle. The train struck and shattered the metal bed, sending shrapnel toward crew members. Fragments struck camera assistant Sarah Jones and propelled her toward the still fast moving train, resulting in her death. William Hurt, who was meant to be on the hospital bed in the scene, got off the trestle before the train hit the bed, collecting splinters on his bare feet as he ran across the ties then to the sharp rocks on shore. Several other crew members were injured and were taken to hospital.
The railroad trestle that the film crew was on is a historic bridge crossing the Altamaha River in Wayne County at the location of the civil war Battle of Altamaha Bridge. According to the NTSB preliminary report, the train was traveling at 58 mph and the speed limit for this section of track was 70 mph. On February 21, sheriff’s deputies identified the deceased as Sarah Elizabeth Jones, and confirmed that seven others were injured in the incident.
Executive Producer Nick Gant, creative director and principal of Meddin Studios, denied any wrongdoing or negligence in the incident, and told Variety that the crew was extremely well qualified, and blamed the railway company for the mishap. On February 24, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office released an incident report, in which it was stated that the production company had previously been denied permission by CSX to film on the train trestle.The investigation was later expanded to include the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, investigating Jones’s death as a negligent homicide.