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'Rust' Production Company Fined $137K For Safety Violations After Halyna Hutchins' Death
New Mexico Environment Department’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau fined the production company behind the movie 'Rust' for what it called "serious and willful" violations of firearm safety procedures that resulted in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.
Six months after cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was accidentally shot to death on the set of “Rust,” the film’s production company has been fined $136,793 for safety violations on set.
In a report accompanying the fines, released Wednesday by the New Mexico Environment Department Occupational Health and Safety Bureau (OHSB), the state concluded that Rust Movie Productions, LLC management “knew that firearm safety procedures were not being followed on set and demonstrated plain indifference to employee safety by failing to review work practices and take corrective action,” according to a statement from the department.
“Our investigation found that this tragic incident never would have happened if Rust Movie Productions, LLC had followed national film industry standards for firearm safety,” said James Kenney, the Environment Cabinet Secretary. “This is a complete failure of the employer to follow recognized national protocols that keep employees safe.”
Hutchins was shot to death on Oct. 21 after a firearm being held by actor Alec Baldwin discharged, striking her in the chest and director Joel Souza in the shoulder. While Souza survived, Hutchins was later pronounced dead at a New Mexico hospital.
Although the film industry has clear national guidelines in place to direct the use of firearms on set, OHSB said the film’s management “failed to follow these guidelines or take other effective measures to protect workers.”
“The guidelines require live ammunition ‘never to be used nor brought onto any studio lot or stage,’ that safety meetings take place every day when firearms are being handled and that employees ‘refrain from pointing a firearm at anyone’ expect after consultation with the Property Master, Armorer or other safety representative, such as the First Assistant Director,” authorities wrote. “By failing to follow these practices, an avoidable loss of life occurred.”
Kenney said in a video message released by the New Mexico Environment Department that investigators had issued the “maximum possible fine” against the production company.
“Through our investigation we determined that Rust Production failures were both serious and willful,” he said, calling Hutchins death a “terrible tragedy.”
According to an 11-page summary of the investigation’s findings obtained by Oxygen.com, the film’s armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed had been tasked with maintaining the firearms but, in addition to her responsibilities as armorer, she was also required to perform the role of props assistant to Sarah Zachery.
Line Producer Gabrielle Pickle sent Gutierrez-Reed an email on Oct.10, 2021 telling her she was only allowed eight paid days at the armorer’s rate and was instructed to spend the rest of her time during the production fulfilling the duties of prop assistant.
Four days later, Pickle emailed Gutierrez-Reed again after, she said, had it had been “brought to my attention that you are focusing far more on Armorer and not supporting props as needed,” and also noted that Gutierrez-Reed needed some type of check-in and -out system for the weapons, after a shotgun had been left unattended on two separate occasions.
In response, Gutierrez-Reed wrote that the job of armorer was “a very serious job and since we’ve started I’ve had a lot of days where my job should only be to focus on the guns and everyone’s safety” adding later that if gun safety wasn’t considered a priority then “dangerous mistakes can happen.”
Just two days later, on Oct. 16, two firearms “misfires” occurred on set. The first misfire occurred when Gutierrez-Reed's boss in the props department, Sarah Zachery, accidentally fired a blank road while loading a .45 caliber revolver. The second happened with Baldwin’s stunt double, Blake Teixiera, who told Gutierrez-Reed the gun “just went off.”
On Oct. 20, first assistant camera Lane Luper resigned after citing safety and other concerns on set.
“During the filming of gunfights on this job things are often played very fast and loose,” Luper wrote in an email to management citing the previous accidental discharges.
Hutchins, a 42-year-old married mother, was killed the next day.
In a statement to Oxygen.com, Gutierrez-Reed’s attorneys Jason Bowles and Todd J. Bullion said the report supports their assertion that Gutierrez-Reed was not responsible for the tragedy.
“OSHA found that Hannah Gutierrez-Reed was not provided adequate time or resources to conduct her job effectively, despite her voiced concerns,” they said. “Critically, OSHA also determined that production failed to call Hannah in to perform her armorer duties and inspect the firearm right before its use in the impromptu scene with Baldwin.”
They contended that had Gutierrez-Reed been called into the church were filming was taking place, “this tragedy would have been prevented.”
Baldwin’s attorneys have also said they believe the report “exonerates Mr. Baldwin by making clear that he believed the gun held only dummy rounds,” according to NBC’s Today show.
The investigation into the fatal shooting by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office remains on going and to-date no criminal charges have been filed in connection with the death.
Baldwin and others associated with the film have been the subject of a series of lawsuits, including one brought in February by Halyna Hutchins’ husband, Matt Hutchins.
“The idea that the person holding the gun and causing it to discharge is not responsible is absurd to me,” he said at the time. “Every individual who touches the firearm has a responsibility for gun safety. But, gun safety was not the only problem on that set. There were a number of industry standards that were not practiced and there’s multiple responsible parties.”