The Coweta County Sheriff’s Office isn’t releasing supplemental information about the death of “The Walking Dead” stuntman John Bernecker – at the request of the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration.
In the original incident report prepared after Bernecker fell 22 feet onto the concrete floor at Raleigh Studios Atlanta in Senoia, Deputy J.P. Traylor wrote that there were several witnesses to the accident that he was unable to interview because they had been “sent off set due to the incident.”
The fall occurred July 12, just after 1 p.m.
Traylor also asked to view the film of the fall, but was told it would take a day to have have it developed. Traylor wrote that he would prepare a supplemental report based on those extra witness statements and viewing of the film.
The sheriff’s office denied an open-records request by The Newnan Times-Herald for the supplemental report, saying that nothing would be released because of a federal investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA.
The attorney for The Newnan Times-Herald, David Hudson, stated that as long as the sheriff’s office or local prosecutors were not investigating possible criminal charges, the supplemental report should be released.
In response, the sheriff’s office stated that OSHA has asked the sheriff’s office not to release anything other than the initial incident report.
OSHA investigates all workplace deaths or serious injuries in the U.S. The actor’s union SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild - Federation of Television and Radio Artists) is also investigating the accident.
Bernecker, an experienced stunt performer, was on a balcony doing a scene with actor Austin Ameilo, who plays Negan’s henchman Dwight, when the fatal injury occurred.
According to the report, Bernecker was to perform a stunt fall over the railing, landing on a large safety pad.
Matthew Goodwin, who made the 911 call and works as second assistant director, told Traylor that Bernecker gave a thumbs-up signaling he was ready, and filming began.
Traylor wrote that “Mr. Bernecker got most of the way over but did not appear to get good separation from the balcony,” and that it appeared to Goodwin that Bernecker tried to “abort the fall by grabbing onto the railing with both hands but his momentum slammed him into the bottom of the balcony, which made him release his hold of the railing. The force spun him upside down and he fell head and neck first to the concrete below.”
Goodwin told Traylor that Bernecker missed the safety pad by inches.
A medic was watching the scene being filmed and was able to immediately render aid to Bernecker. Coweta County Fire Rescue Engine 10 arrived on the scene six minutes after the 911 call was placed. An ambulance arrived 15 minutes after the call was placed and the helicopter ambulance that took Bernecker to Atlanta Medical Center arrived 29 minutes after the call was placed.
Bernecker was pronounced brain dead later that evening, but remained on life support until the following evening. His organs were donated, according to news reports.
A source with knowledge of filming on “The Walking Dead” said that safety is taken very seriously on the set.