The family of one of six Amazon workers killed when a tornado ripped through a warehouse in southern Illinois last month is taking the company to court. The lawsuit filed Monday says contract driver Austin McEwen, 26, and other employees were ordered to keep working at the Edwardsville facility Dec. 10 when they should have been sent home, NBC reports. McEwen was killed while sheltering in a bathroom with colleagues. The wrongful-death suit alleges that Amazon supervisors knew severe weather was on the way but had no emergency plan in place. It says McEwen and his colleagues were "improperly directed" to the bathroom at the fulfillment center.
"Sadly, it appears that Amazon placed profits first during this holiday season instead of the safety of our son and the other five,” mother Alice McEwen said Monday, per the AP. The family's attorney, Jack Casciato, said the facility could easily have shut down for the day and reopened 12 hours later. There clearly "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," he said. "They had people working up to the point of no return,” Casciato said. This is believed to be the first lawsuit filed in connection with the disaster.
The attorney described McEwen's parents as "just small town rural people ... like your prototype hard-working American family," per the Chicago Sun-Times. Casciato said that after the tornado killed their only child, they spent weeks reading about "what Amazon didn’t do or what they could have done." He said father Randy McEwen would like to know why Jeff Bezos could go to space but "couldn't make it to Edwardsville." In a statement, Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said the lawsuit "misunderstands key facts." "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," she said. (More Amazon stories.)