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Arts and Entertainment

'Midnight Rider' Exec Producer Is Teaching A College Course On Set Safety [Updated]

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When a camera assistant was killed on the set of Midnight Rider last year, the argument for better safety practices for crew members reverberated throughout the film community. But now, the executive producer partly responsible for her death is teaching a college course on what it takes to be an assistant director, whose responsibilities include set safety.Deadline reports that Jay Sedrish, who was the executive producer and unit production manager of the Gregg Allman biopic Midnight Rider, is now a teacher at Tarzana-based Columbia College of Hollywood. He's been teaching a course every Thursday on how to be a unit production manager and assistant director, and he's already four weeks in. And no, he hasn't mentioned the debacle on the Midnight Rider set to the students yet, students told Deadline.

Sedrish initially pleaded guilty to criminal trespassing and felony involuntary manslaughter for the death of 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones. In a last-minute deal that was worked out before the case would go to trial, Sedrish was sentenced to 10 years of probation, where he's barred from directing or doing any job in film that involves the safety of employees. He can work as a unit production manager, though. He also had to pay a $10,000 fine.

Jones was killed and seven others injured during the first day of shooting on Feb. 20, 2014 when a freight train plowed through a train trestle in Jesup, Georgia. Jones and the crew were on the trestle constructing set pieces when the train came through, and they didn't have enough time to get out of the way. Jones was killed when a piece of debris knocked her into the path of the oncoming train.

After an OSHA investigation on the incident, officials found that the supervising crew, which included Sedrish, never got the proper permission to shoot on the train trestle, but still did it. Sedrish made another egregious decision during that shoot: the crew had a discussion the night before the deadly incident on whether they should include a safety bulletin about the hazards of working around railroad trains and tracks on the call sheet. When a production official "asked unit production manager Jay Sedrish if he wanted the safety bulletin attached to the call sheet, Mr. Sedrish said a resounding 'No, No, No, No,'" according to the OSHA report.

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Despite all of that, school administrators at Columbia College of Hollywood decided to give Sedrish a UPM/Assistant Director teaching position. He originally applied for a production accounting teaching position, but got this one instead. Alan Gansberg, the dean of the college, told Deadline, "Safety on the set is part of that class. I think that people often redeem themselves by speaking on teaching in areas where errors were made."

Some students aren't too thrilled about Sedrish teaching at their school. There's a petition addressed to Columbia College asking administrators to remove Sedrish as a teacher. The petition has 115 of its required 200 signatures so far. Patrick Aaron Escobar, who started the petition, wrote:

And with those rules we expect a particular level of professionalism, and as young, eager, and impressionable minds, we should not have to sit through any course or lecture conducted by an individual known for blatant disregard to industry standards, one that injured several crew members, and abruptly ending the life of 2nd Assistant Camerawoman Sarah Jones. As a student of CCH, I feel a great amount of shame, and humiliation for being associated with this school, that has taken on a known felon; although he may have avoided jail time, he is still responsible for the death of Sarah, to the many members of IATSE and the entertainment community. And we, as students should not be made to suffer such an embracement, hiring this man has negatively impacted the reputation of this school, one that I fear will only have a greater backlash from the entertainment industry.

As for the Midnight Rider director, Randall Miller, he pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges in Jones' death. Miller was sentenced to 10 years but he will only serve two years as a part of the plea agreement since this is his first offense. He has to perform 360 hours of community service, pay a $25,000 and not direct during his probation period. All charges filed against Miller's wife, Jody Savin, who served as producer on Midnight Rider, were waived.

Miller's guilty plea and sentencing is a rare occurrence. Oftentimes, filmmakers aren't convicted of any crime when a worker loses their life on set. When a helicopter crashed on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie in 1982, and killed actor Vic Morrow and two child actors, Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen, director John Landis and his crew was acquitted of manslaughter charges.

Update 10/21, 2:50 p.m.: Deadline reports that Sedrish is no longer working at the school after administrators received complaints about him working at the school. Columbia College administrators issued this statement today:

Columbia College Hollywood has since 1952 sought to offer its students the finest education possible in film, television, and now new media and digital arts. Towards that goal we hired as an instructor an individual who shares responsibility for a heartbreaking incident in Georgia that took the life of a member of a film crew and injured others. We thought his professional skill sets could serve as valuable instructional tools for our students. However well-intentioned, we obviously did not realize the strong ongoing sentiment within the entertainment community and elsewhere opposing this individual having any connection to the film industry let alone teaching film students. The individual in question has withdrawn from teaching effective immediately.