‘Amazon didn’t do much for us,’ says downstate family poised to sue over deadly warehouse collapse

Austin McEwen, 26, was one of the six people who died Dec. 10 while working at an Amazon distribution center in Edwardsville, Illinois, when a tornado struck.

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The aftermath of the partial collapse of an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Edwardsville, Illinois, in December.

The aftermath of the partial collapse of an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Edwardsville, Illinois, in December.

Getty file

The father of a contracted delivery driver who died while working at a downstate Amazon facility when it was hit by a tornado last month 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.”

That’s according to Clifford Law attorney Jack Casciato, who is representing Austin McEwen’s family. They question whether “profits [took] precedence over safety” on Dec. 10 when McEwen and five other people were killed in the rubble of the southern Illinois Amazon fulfillment center.

“Was it more important to get these packages delivered during this holiday peak season — probably the highest profit season for Amazon — when they had warnings as early as the day before that this area could be hit by a tornado?” Casciato said Sunday. “And as the day got onward and onward, the warnings continued to increase and they had people working up to the point of no return.”

Austin McEwen, 26, was one of the six people who died Dec. 10 while working at an Amazon distribution center in Edwardsville, Illinois, when a tornado struck.

Austin McEwen, 26, was one of the six people who died Dec. 10 while working at an Amazon distribution center in Edwardsville, Illinois, when a tornado struck.

Courtesy of Clifford Law Offices

McEwen’s parents planned to file a wrongful death lawsuit Monday morning in Madison County, alleging the e-commerce giant failed to notify its workers of inclement weather and provide safe storm shelter.

It’s thought to be the first suit filed since the deadly tornado hit the warehouse. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration launched an investigation into the collapsed facility shortly after the storm.

Amazon didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

An advance copy of the lawsuit obtained by the Sun-Times alleges that Amazon management was aware of the severe weather threat, but failed to evacuate the fulfillment center or have a proper emergency plan in place.

The suit claims Amazon “carelessly required individuals... to continue working up until the moments before the tornado struck.” It also said Amazon “improperly directed” McEwen and others to seek shelter in a bathroom, which they “knew or should have known” wasn’t a safe place.

“We learned from whistleblowers inside that warehouse that survived that there was absolutely no shelter in place. There were no drills. It was a chaotic scene,” Casciato said.

The facility, which opened in 2016, didn’t have a basement or storm shelter even though the area routinely sees tornadoes, according to the suit.

McEwen, 26, is survived by his parents, Randy and Alice McEwen, 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.

After the storm killed their only child, Randy and Alice McEwen spent weeks reading articles about “what Amazon didn’t do or what they could have done or what they maybe intentionally did keeping people there,” Casciato said.

Through the attorney, Alice McEwen said “Amazon didn’t do much for us... [they] barely contacted us.”

The family is asking for more than $50,000 from each of the four defendants named in the suit, which includes Amazon.com, the construction company that built the facility and the project’s developer.

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