Austin McEwen was killed on Dec. 10 when a deadly tornado hit an Amazon distribution center in Edwardsville, Il. The Amazon worker’s family is now suing the company and saying that the company is to blame for their son’s death.
According to reports, Austin McEwen, who was an independent contracted driver with Amazon, along with six other people, was told to keep working despite the incoming tornado. The wrongful death suit, filed in Madison County Circuit Court on Monday, said that the employees should have been evacuated from the building. The lawsuit also alleges that Amazon failed to have an emergency plan or a basement shelter in its facility.
“It’s very clear that there could be a profits over safety argument in this case, that Amazon was more concerned, during its peak delivery season, with keeping its production lines running,” the plaintiff’s attorney, Jack J. Casciato said.
The current lawsuit is being filed against Amazon and two companies that were in charge of building the distribution center, Contegra Construction Company and Tristar Properties.
Amazon said that they gave their employees 11 minutes to get to a “safe area,” located on the north side of the 1.1 million square foot building. Austin McEwen and the five other employees who didn’t make it were found in a collapsed bathroom after the deadly tornado ripped through the distribution center.
A spokesperson from Amazon has spoken out about the lawsuit and claims that the company did the right thing on Dec. 10. “The local teams were following the weather conditions closely,” said Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel. “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. We believe our team did the right thing as soon as a warning was issued, and they worked to move people to safety as quickly as possible.”
Nantel also added that the distribution center was only four years old and was up to code, so it was appropriate to let work continue. The Amazon worker’s family disagrees and believes that the company cared more about the work than their employee’s safety.
Occupational Safety and Hazard Agency or OSHA, have started their own investigation into the incident to make sure that Amazon had proper emergency plans for a deadly tornado. The investigation is expected to take up to six months.
Reports from Dec. 10 show that the tornado hit the distribution center around 8:28 p.m. The natural disaster had winds that reached 150 mph and when it hit the Amazon center, the roof of the building collapsed and leveled the property.
An investigation discovered that Amazon officials in that area were aware or should have been aware of the tornado about an hour before it touched down. Members of Congress have written to the company, and CEO Jeff Bezos, demanding answers for the tragedy.
“Even as early as December 9, it was very clear that this area of Southwestern Illinois could be at risk of a tornado and the warning intensified throughout the day. The question Amazon will have to answer is: ‘Why were these workers present at this facility?’” Casciato said.
A GoFundMe page was set up for Austin McEwen to help pay for funeral costs. The page was able to donate over $50,000 for the Amazon worker’s family. His parents thanked those who donated.
The Amazon worker’s family said, “We have received an outpouring of support since Austin’s death, and we want to express our gratitude. However, just saying thank you is not enough. Our whole world was Austin, and we will never be the same. We have received so much love and support, and so many have gone above and beyond to help. You all have touched our hearts that are broken and brought some comfort to our pain. Thank you for sharing memories of Austin, your empathy, and gentle words of perseverance. Please know that your memorial contributions allowed us to honor Austin with a beautiful funeral and a burial site next to his beloved grandparents.”