RECAP: Day one of civil trial against CSX Transportation in ‘Midnight Rider’ case


SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Opening statements began Tuesday morning at the Chatham County Courthouse for a civil trial against CSX Transportation.

The parents of 27-year-old Sarah Jones are suing CSX Transportation for wrongful death and negligence, claiming they failed to take safety precautions on the first day of filming for the Gregg Allman film “Midnight Rider.”

Jones was killed after being hit by a train February 20, 2014, while the crew was filming on a trestle of live tracks near Jesup, Georgia.

The lawyers representing CSX say that the crew did not have specific permission to film on their tracks.

The family of Sarah Jones argues that CSX and its crew should have exercised care and safety precautions regardless of whether or not the film crew had permission.

The plaintiff opened its arguments by describing Jones as someone who “loved her job but was killed because of mistakes that were made on February 20, 2014.”

Emails between the film crew and CSX were shared, including a February 20 email where CSX wrote in regards to the trestle use, “Unfortunately, CSX will not be able to support your request.”

The plaintiff said that crew did not take this as a complete ‘no’ and decided to “steal a shot” in the location, regardless of having permission.

There were three trains that went through the area during the course of filming. The third train killed Jones.

The family of Sarah Jones argued CSX should have informed their crews, including the conductor and engineer, of the group of people on the track in order to take safety precautions.

The defense made their argument by saying the film company did not have permission to film in the area.

They also said that if the train were to use an emergency brake, it would have derailed.

According to the defense’s research, if the train braked regularly, it would have stopped two seconds after the point of impact.

Izabeau Giannakopoulos was the first witness called. She worked as a behind the scene videographer and still photographer.

Giannakopoulos said she was not aware they didn’t have permission to be on the tracks and didn’t assume they were in danger.

She was filming during the moment of impact where the train hits Jones.

During her testimony Giannakopoulos became emotional. She said while she didn’t know Jones well, but they shared mutual friends.

Giannakopoulos finished her testimony, acknowledging that both the film crew and CSX made mistakes, but claimed CSX should have practiced safety precautions.

After a lunch break more witnesses were called to the stand, including Jones’ former childhood friend and roommate.

The witness spoke about Jones from a personal point-of-view and told of her love for the film industry and spirituality.

Following her, Zach Graber provided the jury with insight on the film industry and the nature of the February 20 shoot. Graber considered Jones his colleague and said she brought a positive energy to the work.

Graber, too, became emotional talking about the moment the train struck a hospital bed striking Jones causing her death.

After the witnesses were questioned, multiple depositions were played via a previously recorded video interview.

The day also included a reenactment of the crash and cross-examination of the reenactment.

More testimonies are expected on Wednesday after the first day last well past 6:00 p.m.. Stay with WSAV for the latest on the developments of the trial.Follow along on Twitter for the latest updates.

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