Wrongful death lawsuit filed over tornado at Amazon site in Illinois

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. — The family of a man who died last month -- when an Amazon fulfillment center where he was working was struck by a tornado -- has filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

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Austin McEwen, 26, died on Dec. 10, 2020, when strong winds from an EF3 tornado damaged the roof and collapsed the walls of the building in Edwardsville, Illinois, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. He was one of six people killed at the facility.

McEwen’s mother, Alice McEwen, filed the wrongful death and negligence suit, the newspaper reported. She and her husband, Randy McEwen, are seeking more than $200,000 in damages, according to the Post-Dispatch.

The defendants are Amazon Inc.; Creve Coeur, Illinois-based developer TriStar Properties and builder Contegra Construction Co., of Edwardsville, KTVI-TV reported.

McEwen drove for a company contracted by Amazon for deliveries, KMOV-TV reported. The lawsuit alleges that Amazon management knew conditions were unsafe as tornado warnings had been issued, but required employees to remain working instead of evacuating the facility, according to the television station reported.

The tornado, with top winds estimated at 155 mph, ripped the roof off the facility just after 8:30 p.m. CST, KTVI reported.

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McEwen was killed along with Deandre S. Morrow , 28, of St. Louis; Kevin D. Dickey, 62, of Carlyle, Illinois; Clayton Lynn Cope, 29, of Alton, Illinois; Etheria S. Hebb, 34, of St. Louis; and Larry E. Virden, 46, of Collinsville, Illinois, the television station reported.

Forty-five Amazon workers were able to evacuate the warehouse safely, with one airlifted to a hospital for treatment, according to KTVI.

According to Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel, the lawsuit misunderstands key facts about weather alerts and the building.

“The truth is that this was a new building less than four years old, built in compliance with all applicable building codes, and the local teams were following the weather conditions closely,” Nantel said in a statement. “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.”

“Our records indicate there were 11 tornadoes since 2000, so why wouldn’t this warehouse have a storm shelter?” Chicago-based attorney Jack Casciato said during a news conference that he, Alice McEwen, and Randy McEwen held over Zoom on Monday.

“We hope along with the other families who lost loved ones to get the answers we deserve. We know those answers will come only by filing a lawsuit,” Alice McEwen told reporters.