Sarah Jones, the camera assistant killed on the doomed “Midnight Rider” set, was trying to save expensive camera equipment in the final moments before she was fatally struck by a train, according to a hairstylist who worked with her.
“Sarah was a strong, powerful, beautiful woman,” hairstylist Joyce Gilliard told The Hollywood Reporter last week in a witness account of the tragic on-set accident on Feb. 20.
The accident occurred during pre-production on the Gregg Allman biopic while crew members were filming on a train trestle spanning the Altamaha River in Wayne County, Ga.
Gilliard, 42, said crew members had been warned that they had a minute to clear the tracks in the event a train appeared.
They were in the middle of filming a dream sequence with star William Hurt and a twin-size metal-framed bed and mattress in the middle of the tracks when a train horn sounded.
Gilliard told THR that the director, Randall Miller, screamed for everyone to run. Jones, who already had several bags slung over her shoulders, shouted what she should do about the rest of the expensive camera equipment.
Gilliard said she and the others yelled: “Drop it! Just drop it!”
The hairdresser made her way to a gangplank parallel to the tracks and clung to a steel girder as the train roared past her. It was traveling so fast that her left arm, snapping the bone and ripping away from her body and into the train.
“I saw my life, my kids, my family, all of it before me. I was sure I was going to die,” she said.
Instead, when she opened her eyes, Gilliard saw Jones’ mangled and lifeless body.
Five other crew members were injured. Hurt and the director survived unscathed. Gilliard was airlifted to a Savannah hospital and now has metal pins in her elbows. She said doctors have told her she may never straighten her arm again.
Gilliard told The Hollywood Reporter that the crew had been told the morning of the shoot that they were going on location for a “camera test.” There was no safety meeting before the shoot and no medic on the set, she said.
Before they began shooting, Gilliard and two crew members gathered in an informal prayer circle where she said she prayed, “Lord, please protect us on these tracks. Surround us with your angels and help us, Lord.”
Jones, who Gilliard said wasn’t the type to fret, did not join them.
Since the accident, filming on the biopic has been suspended indefinitely; thousands have attended memorials for Jones; and the film industry is calling for stricter on-set safety standards. An investigation into Jones’ death by state and federal officials is ongoing.
A rep for Miller did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
A photo of Jones, who worked for years as a camera assistant on “The Vampire Diaries,” made a brief appearance at the end of the Oscars “In Memoriam” segment last week.