EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. — The family of a 26-year-old delivery truck driver, who died last December at an Amazon distribution center in Edwardsville, filed a wrongful death lawsuit on Monday.
Six people, including Austin McEwen, an independent contractor, died when a downstate Amazon fulfillment center collapsed in Edwardsville amid an EF-3 tornado the night of Friday, Dec. 10.
Representatives with Clifford Law Offices say McEwen, an Edwardsville native, was among the employees forced to continue working despite management’s knowledge of downstate tornado warnings. Representatives also allege that an initial investigation found that the Amazon distribution center had “no basement shelter” and “no safety plan or adequate emergency plan required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).”
Lawyers add that Amazon directed McEwen and five others killed to shelter in a bathroom not equipped to protect them from the tornado’s wrath.
Clifford Law Offices’ attorneys called the deadly warehouse collapse a “tragically avoidable incident.”
“Initial reports from those that survived this avoidable tragedy are disturbing,” said Jack J. Casciato, partner at Clifford Law Offices who represents the McEwen family. “We certainly intend to discover what precautions Amazon could have taken to save lives. Certainly, this entire facility could have been evacuated when it was believed a tornado was en route. It appears that holiday profits took precedence over safety.”
In the aftermath, on Saturday, Dec. 11, Amazon issued the following statement: “Our thoughts, prayers, and deepest sympathies are with the victims, their loved ones, and everyone impacted. This is a devastating tragedy for our Amazon family and our focus is on supporting our employees and partners.”
An Amazon spokesperson also said workers at the warehouse had little time to prepare when the National Weather Service declared a tornado warning on Friday night. The tornado arrived soon after, collapsing both sides of the warehouse and caving in its roof.
John Felton, Amazon’s senior vice president of global delivery services, said most 39 of 46 workers in the warehouse headed to a shelter on the north side, which ended up “nearly undamaged.” A smaller group dispersed to the harder-hit south end, not a designated “Shelter in Place.”
“There was a tremendous effort that happened that night to keep everybody safe,” Felton said.
Two days after the deadly warehouse collapse, OSHA announced its intent to investigate whether the distribution site followed workplace safety rules. Investigators were granted up to six months to complete their probe.