The Walking Dead: Death of a Stuntman
Anyone who has ever seen the hit AMC television series, The Walking Dead – based on Robert Kirkman’s eponymous masterwork comic series – knows that the show is certainly no stranger to death, with its characters frequently meeting their bloody, violent end on camera for all to see. Recently, however, the series – now in its 8th Season, airing currently – experienced its first off-camera, real-life death when, on July 12, 2017, while filming the current season, 33 year-old stuntman John Bernecker died after a tragic accident on set, in an apparent stunt-gone-wrong.
According to several news outlets which covered the sad and unfortunate event, Deputy Sheriff J.P. Traylor, of the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office was the first officer to arrive on the scene at Raleigh Studios in Senoia, Georgia, at 1:47 p.m., about a half-hour
after the incident occurred. Further, according to the four-page report written by Traylor that day, the fatal stunt that Bernecker was attempting entailed a rehearsed fight scene that ended with Benecker falling 30 feet over a balcony railing and onto a safety pad made of a layer of boxes, PortaPit stunt pads, and another larger pad. Tragically, however, as Traylor's report indicates, after signaling that he was ready, Bernecker got most of the way over the railing, but did not appear to get good separation from the balcony, failing to launch himself far enough away. Apparently realizing his error, the report continues, Benecker attempted to abort the fall by grabbing the railing with both hands but failed, missing the safety padding by mere inches, and landing instead on the concrete floor below, suffering devastating – and ultimately fatal – injuries.
While a fire engine arrived on the set within seven minutes, a medevac helicopter did not arrive to airlift Bernecker to Atlanta Medical Center until about 30 minutes after the fall. He was declared brain dead at 6:30 p.m., from massive blunt force head trauma, but remained on life support for several more days while his family made arrangements, passing away finally on July 14.
Bernecker was no novice in the stunt profession, having accumulated over 90 stunt credits in less than a decade-long career, including the recent Marvel Studios films Black Panther, and Logan, as well as The Fate of the Furious and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2. Eight of these film credits were as a stunt coordinator, which involved Benecker having been responsible for planning and preparing stunt environments as well as monitoring other stuntmen and actors to ensure their safety.
Stunt deaths such as Benecker’s have become rare in the U.S., as Benecker’s death is believed to be the first such stunt-related death in the past 17 years, when in 2000, stuntman Brady Michaels was killed while filming the reality show I Dare You, having fallen from a stationary train while rehearsing a scene in Arizona and striking his head on a rock upon landing.
Similarly, stuntman Paul Dallas died of head injuries in a fall on the set of the TV series L.A. Heat in 1996, having fallen a horrendous 57 feet from a power plant platform onto an airbag which was intended to break his fall but instead ejected him backward whereupon he hit his head on a metal railing, killing him.
Men are not the only victims of stunt-related deaths, as two years earlier, in 1994, stuntwoman Sonja Davis was also involved in a fatal fall on the set of the film A Vampire in Brooklyn after having jumped from a rooftop and partially missing the airbag below, resulting in a fatal blow to the head.
Other such stunt deaths from falls include:
1990, Jay C. Currin, who was killed in a 60-foot jump from cliff in Malibu on while filming the movie Bikini Island, having landed on the airbag successfully, but being ejected from it an onto nearby rocks.
1981, Jack Tyree, who was killed after jumping off an 80-foot cliff and missed his airbag completely while filming The Sword and the Sorcerer.
1978, A.J. Bakunas, who was killed on the set of the movie Steel while jumping without a parachute from the 22nd floor of a construction site in downtown Lexington, KY, and landing on a canvas and plastic airbag which split open upon impact.
In response to Benecker’s passing, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), as well as the SAG-AFTRA union which represents stuntman as well as actors, both conducted investigations into the circumstances and cause of the unfortunate accident.
As Benecker was operating within the course and scope of his employment as a stuntman on the show when he sustained the fatal injuries, his family may be entitled to pursue a Worker’s Compensation claim in the state of Georgia where this accident occurred. To find out more about such Worker’s Comp. claims in New Jersey, visit our YouTube Channel and check out this month’s related video post which expands upon this article.
Additionally, if you have been harmed during the course and scope of your employment and would like to inquire as to a potential Worker’s Compensation or third-party personal injury claim, please feel free to reach out to us here at Drinkwater & Goldstein, LLP at (856) 753-5131 for a free evaluation of your potential case or contact us via email, or through our website or Facebook.