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'Walking Dead' Stuntman Told Actor He Had Never Done Such a High Fall Before Fatal Accident

The Hollywood Reporter logo The Hollywood Reporter 7/14/2017 Jonathan Handel
Stuntman John Bernecker © Courtesy of IMDb Stuntman John Bernecker

Shortly before he fell 22 feet from a balcony onto a concrete floor in a TV show stunt gone wrong, stuntman John Bernecker told a fellow Walking Dead actor that he had done "a few" high fall stunts before but "never this high up," according to Georgia's Coweta County sheriff's office report obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. The actor, Austin Amelio, who was the only other person on the balcony, also stated that Bernecker "seemed a little nervous," according to the report, filed by police officer J.P. Taylor. 

The stunt went bad and Bernecker missed the pads he was supposed to land on by "just inches," second assistant director Matthew Goodwin told a sheriff's deputy, leading to a 911 call that saw him medevaced to an Atlanta hospital about a half-hour later. Three hours after that, he was declared brain dead, according to the Coweta County coroner, an official whose suburban jurisdiction encompasses the Raleigh Studios location where the AMC show was being shot.

According to the report, Goodwin told the sheriff's deputy that Bernecker was supposed to perform a stunt fall at about 1:11 p.m. from a balcony over a railing approximately 22 feet in the air onto a pad made of a layer of 22 inch boxes, PortaPit pads, and a large pad. Bernecker gave a thumbs up signaling he was ready and they began filming.

Bernecker got most of the way over but did not appear to get good separation from the balcony. He appeared to attempt to abort the fall by grabbing onto the railing with both hands, but his momentum took him into the bottom of the balcony, causing him to release his hold, Goodwin is quoted in the report as saying. He fell inches away from the pad, the report says.

A set medic, who was standing by, rendered first aid within seconds. She requested that 911 be called immediately and Goodwin did so, says the report. The first unit to arrive on scene, Engine 10, arrived at 1:18 pm, then Medic 10 at 1:28 pm, and Air Life Helicopter at 1:41 pm. The sheriff's deputies arrived six minutes later. Bernecker was air lifted to Atlanta Medical Center by Air Life 4, but was declared brain dead  - legally dead  -  at 6:30 p.m. that day, the coroner told THR.

After speaking with witnesses, a sheriff's deputy documented the scene, located "on the backside of the filming studio" and indicated that he wanted to speak to more witnesses the next day - they had been sent away due to the accident - and see the film footage that was shot.

Separately, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an investigation into the accident, a OSHA spokesman said. A SAG-AFTRA spokesperson has previously said the union is investigating as well. Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show arts, entertainment and recreation as the 12th most dangerous industry in Georgia, with 5.3 fatalities for every 100 workers. The rate in California is 4.6 per hundred.

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