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Film company fined by OSHA in 'The Walking Dead' stuntman's death

Federal authorities have imposed the maximum allowable fines on a film company in the on-set death of a stuntman for "The Walking Dead."
Andrew Lincoln, Danai Gurira and Melissa Ponzio in "The Walking Dead."Gene Page / AMC
/ Source: Associated Press

ATLANTA — A film company faces a citation and the maximum allowable fine after a stuntman for "The Walking Dead" fell to his death last year during filming on the hit show's Georgia set, federal authorities said Friday.

John Bernecker, 33, died July 12 from injuries suffered in a fall on the set in Senoia, about 35 miles south of Atlanta, Coweta County coroner Richard Hawk said at the time.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration said in a news release that it issued a "serious citation" to Stalwart Films LLC. The agency said it proposed the maximum allowable fine of $12,675 for "failure to provide adequate protection from fall hazards."

"This was a tragic and terrible accident," Stalwart Films said in an emailed statement Friday. "We take the safety of our employees extremely seriously on all of our sets and comply with — and frequently exceed — industry safety standards. We disagree with the issuance of this citation and are considering our response."

"This tragedy should serve as a wake-up call for the entertainment industry," OSHA Atlanta Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer said in the news release. "The entire industry needs to commit to safety practices for actors and stunt people involved in this type of work."

The company has 15 business days from the when it receives the citation and proposed penalty to either comply, request an informal conference with the agency's area director or contest the findings before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, OSHA said in the news release.

The citation, dated Wednesday, says the company could have used a number of methods to reduce the risk to those performing stunts on high platforms, including reducing the fall distance, providing personal protective equipment to lower risks or providing spotters with individual crash pads or other equipment to protect performers and help correct an errant fall.

Assistant director Matthew Goodwin told a responding officer that Bernecker fell head-first onto concrete about 22 feet below after appearing to try to grab a railing to stop his fall. Goodwin said Bernecker was supposed to fall from a balcony over a railing onto "a pad made of a layer of 22-inch boxes, port-a-pit pads, and a large pad," according to a report from the Coweta County Sheriff's Office.

Andrew Lincoln, Danai Gurira and Melissa Ponzio in "The Walking Dead."Gene Page / AMC

Austin Amelio, the only actor on the balcony with Bernecker at the time of the fall, told the officer he asked Bernecker if he'd ever done a fall like that before. The stuntman said he'd done a few but never from that high up, and he "seemed a little nervous," Amelio told the officer.

Filming began after Bernecker gave a thumbs-up to signal he was ready, Goodwin said. Bernecker got most of the way over the railing and then appeared to try to stop the fall by grabbing the railing with both hands, but he hit the balcony, causing him to release his grip and spin upside down as he fell, the report said. Bernecker landed a few inches from the pad, Goodwin told the officer.