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Family of Amazon driver killed in Illinois tornado files wrongful death lawsuit

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Family of Amazon driver killed in Illinois tornado files wrongful death lawsuit
Slabs of concrete sit near Amazon Hub vehicles in Edwardsville, Ill., after a powerful tornado leveled the football-size plant. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 17 (UPI) -- The family of one of the six Amazon employees killed in a collapse at an Illinois Amazon facility that was struck by tornadoes in December has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company.

The suit filed in Madison County Circuit Court states that Austin McEwen, 26, of Edwardsville, Ill., and other employees at the facility were ordered to continue working instead of being told to evacuate despite the known possibility of a major tornado.

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The suit alleges Amazon failed to adhere to Occupational Safety and Health Administration preparedness plans for inclement weather, chose to have workers continue working during the peak holiday season instead of evacuating and failed to have a facility that contained a basement shelter.

"Initial reports from those that survived this avoidable tragedy are disturbing. We certainly intend to discover what precautions Amazon could have taken to save lives," said Jack J. Casciato, a partner at Clifford Law Offices representing McEwen's family.

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In a press conference Monday, Casciato said it was "very clear there could be a profits over safety" argument could be made in the case.

"Amazon was more concerned, during its peak delivery season, with keeping its production lines running," he said. "This facility could have easily shut down for the day. Workers like Austin could have been directed home the next morning, only losing perhaps 12 hours, could have resumed work and a lot of (lost) lives and injuries would have been avoided here."

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McEwan worked as a contract driver at the facility, had played hockey at McKendree University and hoped to start a family with his girlfriend of five years, his mother, Alice McEwen said.

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"Our son was a very loved individual," she said. "He had a love for life."

The lawsuit is seeking more than $50,000 in damages but a specific amount was not mentioned.

Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said the facility is less than four years old and was "in compliance with all applicable building codes" allowing for continued work on the day of the storm.

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"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," said Nantel.

OSHA sent compliance officers to the Amazon complex, which opened in July 2020 and employs about 190 people across several shifts as part of an ongoing investigation.

The agency has six months to complete its investigation, including issuing citations and proposing monetary violations if safety or health violations are found.

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