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Walking Dead Production Company Hit With Maximum Fine For Stuntman's Death

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has enforced the maximum allowable fine against The Walking Dead production company Stalwart Films LLC in connection to the untimely passing of 33-year-old stuntman John Bernecker, who died following an accident on the series' set in July of 2017. 

After investigating the circumstances surrounding Bernecker's death, OSHA imposed this "serious" citation and fined the company in the amount of $12,675, for its "failure to provide adequate protection from fall hazards" (via The Hollywood Reporter). The citation Stalwart Films LLC received falls in line with the majority of OSHA citations (74 percent as of 2015), which are categorized as "serious" rather than "willful" or "repeat" violations. 

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

A sheriff's report of the accident, which involved Bernecker sustaining massive head injuries after falling 22 feet from a balcony and onto the concrete floor below him, detailed that it took nearly 30 minutes for the medevac to reach the show's Senoia, Georgia set and transport Bernecker to a nearby hospital. The document also noted that before Bernecker's fall, he told fellow actor Austin Amelio that he had done "a few" falls in the past but "never this high up." Amelio was reportedly the only other person present on the balcony from which Bernecker was intended to fall for the stunt. He also mentioned that Bernecker "seemed a little nervous" about the prospect of performing a stunt of such intensity. Sadly, when Bernecker went to complete the stunt, he missed the bundle of boxes and PortaPit pads on the ground below by just a few inches, resulting in his eventual death. 

At the time of Bernecker's passing, SAG-AFTRA, which provides representations to media and stunt professionals, announced that it would investigate the accident as well. "SAG-AFTRA offers its deepest condolences to the friends and family of John Bernecker, an accomplished stunt performer who passed away after a fall on the set of The Walking Dead in Georgia. This tragic and untimely loss of a member of the SAG-AFTRA family is heartbreaking, and our thoughts are with his loved ones and his friends and colleagues in the Georgia production community," the organization said in a statement. "The safety of our members is paramount. We will work with the authorities and closely monitor their investigations into this tragic incident." 

Stalwart Films LLC now has "15 business days to comply or contest the findings" of OSHA's investigation. A spokesperson for the company released the following statement to THR in response to the maximum fine and citation: "This was a tragic and terrible accident. 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."