William Hurt Pulls Out of “Midnight Rider” Following Fatal Train Accident

Four-time Oscar nominee William Hurt has pulled out of his role as the present-day Greg Allman in the wake of the tragic death of 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones on the set of “Midnight Rider.”

On February 20, 2014, Jones was part of a crew (led by director Randall Miller) filming on a trestle outside Savannah, GA. She was killed when a train unexpectedly arrived on-set. The crew was filming directly on the tracks at the time.

Was Jones’ Death Preventable?

Jones’ tragic passing has ignited outrage among the Hollywood community. Many feel that Jones’ workplace death was preventable, and that proper mechanisms to prevent a workplace accident were not in place. Director Miller and the film’s producers are the subject of an investigation that could lead to criminal charges.

While Hurt has not commented on his decision to leave the production, he was one of several people on the bridge on the date of Jones’ death. He escaped unharmed.

Workplace Accidents Under Scrutiny

The case has led to renewed calls for investigations into workplace accidents and workplace death. The U.S. National Council on Occupational Safety and Health used Jones’ death as one of a handful of case studies in J. Paul Leigh’s “Preventable Deaths 2014” report. Read the full report here.

Workplace death is not a new issue, but Jones’ case has brought it back to the forefront. A few simple preventative measures, including obtaining a permit to film on the trestle, could have saved Jones’ life. The National COSH report offers multiple suggestions for preventing workplace accidents, including basic suggestions like incorporating barriers and safety devices to separate workers from hazards. While these suggestions would seem to border on common sense, the disturbing lapses of safety on the set of “Midnight Rider” serve notice that even the most basic safety principles are often ignored.

The National COSH report estimates that more that 53,000 deaths due to workplace death, workplace accident or workplace exposure occurred in 2007. The cost of those deaths—including medical expenses, lost wages and lost productivity—is estimated at north of $50 billion. Workplace death takes a toll that can be measured in numerous ways.

Hollywood Guilds Demand Safer Sets

Jones’ tragic death has lead to a reexamination of workplace accidents, in Hollywood in particular. The Director’s Guild of America, Cinematographer’s Guild and Society of Camera Operators have used Jones as a rallying point to demand safer sets. A preventable workplace accident, Jones’ death serves as a reminder that safety in any occupation should be paramount. William Hurt has silently voiced his belief in this principal but removing himself from the production of “Midnight Rider.”