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Crew member sues Baldwin, other ‘Rust’ producers, claiming negligence led to fatal shooting: ‘I tried to save her’

Serge Svetnoy, chief lighting technician for “Rust,” speaks alongside his attorney on Nov. 10 about a lawsuit filed after the fatal shooting on the film set. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)
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Serge Svetnoy cradled Halyna Hutchins’s head as she lay bleeding last month. She had been shot in the abdomen on the set of the low-budget western film “Rust.” For about 30 minutes, the chief lighting technician tried to keep Hutchins awake and alert, speaking calmly about their close friendship and plans, court documents said.

Svetnoy soon noticed his hand resting in a puddle of his friend’s blood. Color faded from her face. She was slipping away.

It was only when the paramedics arrived at the film set near Santa Fe, N.M., that Svetnoy wept, not just for his friend, but for his own narrow survival.

Hutchins was pronounced dead hours later at an Albuquerque hospital.

On Wednesday, three weeks after the fatal shooting, Svetnoy filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court, claiming the film’s producers — including actor Alec Baldwin, who fired the revolver — and several crew members were negligent and responsible for Hutchins’s death and his own “severe emotional distress,” the lawsuit says. It’s the first known suit in connection to the Oct. 21 shooting, which also wounded director Joel Souza.

“I tried to save her life,” Svetnoy said of Hutchins at a Wednesday news conference outside his lawyer’s office. “What a tragedy and injustice when a person loses her life on film set while making art.”

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Svetnoy and Hutchins had been friends for five years and worked on nine films together, according to the lawsuit. They were trusted colleagues who bonded over their shared Eastern European backgrounds. Their families were close, often dining, socializing and spending holidays together.

When Hutchins accepted the job as cinematographer for “Rust,” she asked Svetnoy to work on the film with her, his lawyer, Gary A. Dordick, said at the news conference.

“The pay was terrible,” Dordick said. But that did not matter to Svetnoy, who took the job for his friend.

“He was loyal to her,” the lawyer added.

Svetnoy said he was standing about six or seven feet away from Baldwin on Oct. 21 as the actor rehearsed a scene inside a church on Bonanza Creek Ranch, a popular filming location. Baldwin was instructed to sit on one of the pews, reach across his chest for a .45 Long Colt revolver and point it “in the general direction of the camera,” according to the lawsuit.

“What happened next will haunt [Svetnoy] forever,” the lawsuit says.

Svetnoy suddenly heard a boom and “felt a strange and terrifying whoosh of what felt like pressurized air from his right,” the lawsuit says. Gunpowder and residual materials allegedly struck the right side of his face, scratching his eyeglass lenses. His hearing became muffled, he said.

In shock, Svetnoy turned to his left and saw Hutchins clutching her lower torso in pain, the lawsuit says. He ran to her, lowering her onto her back. Svetnoy sat with Hutchins until paramedics arrived. She was pronounced dead a few hours later.

Santa Fe detectives are still investigating the chain of events that day. Santa Fe County District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies told ABC’s “Good Morning America” she is prepared to file criminal charges, calling Hutchins’s death avoidable.

“I think the most concerning thing is that there were so many levels of failures on that set,” Carmack-Altwies said.

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Svetnoy’s lawsuit names about two dozen defendants, including Baldwin; Hannah Gutierrez, the 24-year-old gun handler; and Dave Halls, the first assistant director.

They “failed to act with reasonable care, violated relevant and prevailing industry standards, and negligently exercised their assigned and assumed duties in the filming of this motion picture,” the lawsuit says.

Attorneys or representatives for Baldwin, Gutierrez and Halls did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Baldwin has previously said he is “fully cooperating” with the investigation.

Svetnoy alleged that ammunition was not “stored securely” and was “left unattended in the prop truck.” He also said the firearm handed to Baldwin was “left unsecured on a prop cart” before the scene. According to the lawsuit, police found 500 rounds of blanks, dummies and “suspected” live cartridges.

“They should never, ever, have had live rounds on this set,” Dordick, Svetnoy’s attorney, said at the news conference.

The lawsuit claims the named defendants “declined requests for weapons training days” and did not allow enough time to prepare for gunfire. The staff was allegedly spread too thin, and the cost-cutting, which forced production to rush, “endangered the lives and safety of cast and crew,” the lawsuit adds.

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Producers had a responsibility to hire a trained expert to oversee firearms and ammunition on the “Rust” set, the lawsuit argues.

Gutierrez, Halls and the prop team did not “thoroughly inspect” the firearm before giving it to Baldwin, the lawsuit alleges. Gutierrez had set up three prop guns on a gray cart, an affidavit filed by a Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office detective states. Halls then allegedly picked one and handed it to Baldwin, yelling “Cold gun!” meaning the revolver did not contain a live round. But he was mistaken, the affidavit said.

Svetnoy added in his lawsuit that Baldwin had a responsibility “to ensure that it was indeed ‘cold’ before rehearsing his scene with it,” noting “the scene did not call for Defendant Baldwin to shoot the Colt Revolver.”

In an interview with Fox News earlier this month, Halls’s attorney, Lisa Torraco, said her client “absolutely did not” pick up the firearm and hand it to Baldwin. She later backtracked and said she “doesn’t know” if he handed the actor the weapon.

On Tuesday, one of Gutierrez’s attorneys suggested on the “Today” show that the events were “sabotage.”

In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, lawyers Jason Bowles and Robert Gorence said safety was Gutierrez’s top priority.

“Hannah was hired for two positions on this film, which made it extremely difficult to focus on her job as an armorer,” they said. “She fought for training, days to maintain weapons and proper time to prepare for gunfire but ultimately was overruled by production and her department.”

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Svetnoy noted on Wednesday that he supports giving young people opportunities on film sets but added “there must always be more experienced people behind them to teach, avoid mistakes, and prevent tragedy.”

Ultimately, Svetnoy said negligence led to Hutchins’s death.

“I still cannot believe she is no longer with us,” he said.