Downstate Illinois family sues over deadly Amazon warehouse collapse in Edwardsville
EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. - A downstate Illinois family says Amazon put profits ahead of safety after six workers were killed when a tornado slammed into an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville.
On Monday, that family filed the first lawsuit against Amazon, alleging the company had plenty of warning about potentially deadly weather.
"Sadly, it appears Amazon placed profits first during this holiday season instead of the safety of our son and the other five families who lost loved ones," said Alice McEwen.
Austin McEwen, 26, was working as an Amazon driver on December 10 when a massive tornado packing 150 mile-an-hour winds slammed into the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Edwardsville, collapsing the warehouse and killing six people.
Now, his family has filed a lawsuit alleging Amazon had at least 24 hours warning that potentially deadly storms were headed to the area but refused to allow workers to go home.
"Amazon was more concerned during its peak delivery season with keeping their production lines running when this facility could have easily shut down for the day," said attorney Jack Casciato.
Casciato of Chicago’s Clifford Law says Amazon is also at fault for having no emergency plan and no alarm system, and for building the warehouse in tornado alley without a basement or reinforced storm shelter.
"Records indicate there were eleven tornados in this area since the year 2000. Why wouldn't this warehouse therefore have an appropriate storm shelter?" asked Casciato.
In a statement, Amazon responded: "This was a new building, less than four years old, built in compliance with all applicable building codes... Severe weather watches are common in this part of the country and, while precautions are taken, are not cause for most businesses to close down."
Alice McEwen said her son had a bright future ahead.
"Austin was a wonderful son. He was only 26-years-old. We looked forward to seeing him get married and have children of his own and celebrate life's milestones in the years to come."
Austin is survived by his parents, Randy and Alice, whom Casciato described as "just small town rural people… like your prototype hard-working American family."
Austin McEwen was "very well known" in the Edwardsville community as more than 1,500 people came to his funeral, Casciato said.
Randy McEwen wants to know why the company’s founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos was able to make it to space last year, "but couldn’t make it to Edwardsville," according to Casciato.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is also investigating the tragedy.
The McEwen family says they are disappointed that so far Bezos has not personally reached out to the families of any of the victims.
Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.