A 29-year-old student cinematographer was killed Friday when an off-road vehicle carrying a group of young filmmakers rolled over in Imperial Valley, authorities said.

The group, which included the Chapman University cinematographer and three University of Southern California film students, were taking pictures on a large sand dune in the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, a California Highway patrol spokesman confirmed Monday.

Officer Arturo Platero said the students’ off road vehicle had climbed the dune to the crest when it either rolled back, or went over the crest and rolled over.

“All of those on board were wearing their safety harness apart from the deceased,” Platero said. “The individual suffered fatal injuries in the rollover.”

The deceased student from Walnut, California, had been serving as a cinematographer on a production with SCA students, Elizabeth Daley the Dean of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, said in a statement Monday.

Daley did not provide more details about what the group was doing on the sand dunes.

“Our deepest sympathy is with the family members of the deceased student on this tragic loss,” Daley said. “We also send condolences to the Chapman University community.”

Representatives for Chapman University did not respond to requests for comment, and USC referred questions to the California Highway Patrol.

Bureau of Land Management public affairs officer Kate Miyamoto said the accident occurred near the Osborne Overlook, an area of dunes popular with off-roaders.

She said BLM officials went to the scene to assist. BLM issues film permits, but it was unclear whether the students were shooting at the time of the death or if they had permits.

While it is unclear what the group had been doing and whether the excursion was part of a film production, the death raises questions about whether safety protocols were breached during work a film project.

It comes six months after the high profile killing of another cinematographer on the set of a low-budget Western in New Mexico.

Halyna Hutchins, a 42-year-old graduate of the American Film Institute, was killed when actor Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun during rehearsals for the movie “Rust.” The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an investigation into how a live round ended up in the chamber.

The “Rust” shooting last fall had led to an outcry about set safety. The Hutchins family has since launched a wrongful death lawsuit against the producers of the movie. The shooting also injured director Joel Souza.

The industry has been dogged by a series of fatal injuries in recent years. A Los Angeles Times review of U.S. government data and published reports shows that at least 19 fatal injuries took place on film sets nationwide from 2010 to 2019, the last year for which data were available.


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