‘The Walking Dead’: A Stunt Man Died on Set After a Tragic 22-Feet Fall

In 2010, the first episode of The Walking Dead premiered on the AMC network. Viewers went wild for the zombie apocalypse horror, and the action series gained an unexpected cult-like following. The award-winning program captivated audiences for the past decade with gore, violence, and enticing end-of-world storytelling. The last 24 episodes of the final 11th season are currently in production, and they’re expected to air later this year. While actors have come and gone from the The Walking Dead, cast and crew will never forget the stunt man who died on the set of the show.

‘The Walking Dead’ stunt man, John Bernecker, died in 2017

On July 12, 2017, while filming season 8 on the Georgia set of The Walking Dead, stuntman John Bernecker was standing on a balcony with actor Austin Amelio, who played Dwight. According to BuzzFeed, the 33-year-old stuntman “was supposed to jump from a balcony and fall onto padding, but he did not get far enough away from the balcony and missed the padded target by inches.”

The experienced stuntman, who had worked on The Black Panther and The 5th Wave, and had 93 stunt credits, plunged 22 feet to his death after landing headfirst on the concrete. He was airlifted to Atlanta Medical Center, where he was later pronounced dead.

The Hollywood Reporter secured documents that described the incident, saying, “Bernecker was supposed to fall from the balcony railing.” They explained the stuntman “did not appear to get good separation from the balcony,” saying he “attempted to abort the fall by grabbing the railing with both hands but failed.”

According to USA Today, in 2019, Bernecker’s estate was awarded $8.6 million in damages for the stuntman’s untimely death. Earlier this year, an appeals court reversed the decision, stating the parents could not sue because of the Workers’ Compensation Act. They plan to take the case to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Additional safety measures were implemented by ‘The Walking Dead’ after the tragic accident

According to Variety, between 1990 and 2014, there was only one fatality on a Georgia set. Camera assistant Sarah Jones was killed after being hit by a train while filming Midnight Rider. A set medic on the film said, “Ever since the Sarah Jones incident, movie sets, especially in Georgia, have been ultra-safe.” He explained, “It’s made a 180-degree turn from just doing very silly, unsafe stuff to being very safe.”

After Bernecker’s tragic death on the set of The Walking Dead, OSHA fined Stalwart Films the maximum penalty of $12,675 for exposing workers to fall hazards. EHS Today explained that OSHA recommended reducing fall distances, implementing a free-fall catch system, providing spotters with crash pads for added protection, and hiring an independent safety specialist to assess future risks.

OSHA also suggested providing stunt performers with adequate personal protective equipment and a restraint and deceleration system be implemented to prevent contact with the ground. Also, according to SAG-AFTRA guidelines, an ambulance must now be present on set during the performance of hazardous stunts.

There have been other injuries on the set of ‘The Walking Dead’

Norman Reedus in the final season of 'The Walking Dead' is standing in the dark, holding a knife, and looking over his shoulder
Norman Reedus in ‘The Walking Dead’ | Josh Stringer/AMC

Working as an actor on The Walking Dead is an intensely physical role that requires fighting off zombies and constantly running for your life. As a result, actors can end up getting hurt, as was the case for Zane Orr. According to Project Casting, the 20-year-old background extra was inadvertently run over by a 2.5-ton military truck when the brakes of the massive vehicle malfunctioned. Playing the role of a walker, the young actor broke his pelvis but miraculously survived.

Norman Reedus, who plays Darryl Dixon, was also injured during the filming of an episode titled “Them.” In a barn filled with walkers, the lead actor cut his arm as the cameras kept rolling. Despite the grotesque effect of real blood oozing from his wound, the scene was never used.

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