The mother of actor Brandon Lee has filed suit against the Edward R. Pressman Film Corp. and 13 other corporations and individuals, alleging that their negligence was responsible for her son's "agonizing pain, suffering and untimely death" last March on the set of the movie "The Crow."
Filed in North Carolina Superior Court in Wilmington, where the movie was filmed, the suit by Linda Lee Cadwell contends that Lee, 28, son of the late actor Bruce Lee, was killed when another actor fired blank ammunition at him, "which in turn propelled into Mr. Lee's abdomen a lethal obstruction that had been lodged in the barrel of the gun during the filming of another scene several weeks earlier."
In a 22-page complaint, Cadwell's lawyers outline a sequence of events beginning last February, which they contend show that the defendants, including various crew members, failed to properly exercise their responsibilities or follow industry standards for the use of firearms on a movie set. The suit alleges that crew members ran out of dummy bullets and improperly manufactured their own from live ammunition instead of waiting a day to buy them from a licensed firearms dealer.
The crew members did not have the "proper training, proper equipment and the required federal firearms license" to perform this task, the complaint alleges. Additionally, the suit notes, it is a violation of industry standards to have live ammunition on a movie set.
During a test firing of the dummy ammunition, a bullet tip wound up in the barrel of the handgun that was later used by actor Michael Massee in the March 30 scene resulting in Lee's death the following day. Massee, who is named as a defendant, fired at the actor, who was not wearing armor or a bulletproof vest, from a distance of less than 20 feet.
The tip "was hurled from the barrel of the handgun and struck Brandon Lee in the abdomen with great force and violence, creating an entry wound approximately the size of a silver dollar," the complaint states. According to the complaint, the gun used by Massee was not inspected by the property masters responsible for making sure it was safe.
Producer Pressman's attorney, James Janowitz of New York City, said he had no immediate response to Cadwell's complaint, which was filed Friday. "Given the short period of time (since the suit was filed) we're really not prepared to say anything more," he said.
Last month, Hanover County (N.C.) District Attorney Jerry Spivey, who has been investigating Lee's death, said he had no plans to seek a criminal negligence indictment against any individuals. He said Tuesday no decision has been made as to whether an indictment will be sought against Crowvision Inc., the Pressman Corp. subsidiary created for the purpose of producing "The Crow." Crowvision also is named as a defendant in Cadwell's suit.
The district attorney said he is awaiting the results of an investigation by the state's Occupational Safety and Health agency.
Cadwell's attorneys declined Tuesday to elaborate on the complaint. One of her lawyers is James Neal of Nashville, who successfully defended director John Landis against manslaughter charges in connection with the 1982 death of actor Vic Morrow and two child actors during the filming of a helicopter scene in "Twilight Zone: The Movie."
Following Lee's death, production of "The Crow" shut down for several weeks, but filming resumed in May and the film has been completed. Paramount Pictures had domestic distribution rights to the film, but has not yet decided if and when to release it, according to spokeswoman Cheryl Boone Isaacs. "I don't know if anybody here has seen it yet," she said.
Also named in the suit are director Alex Proyas and his company, Automatic Films; special-effects contractor J.B. Jones Inc.; executive producer Robert Rosen; associate producer and unit production manager Grant Hill; J.B. Jones employee Bruce Merlin; property master Daniel Kuttner; assistant property master Charlene Hamer; visual effects consultant Andrew Mason; first assistant director Steve Andrews and stunt coordinator Jeff Imada.