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Tornado Victims Sue Amazon for Prioritizing Profit Over Safety

Two lawsuits, one wrongful death and the other emotional distress, have been filed against Amazon for the company’s actions before and after a tornado hit one of its warehouses in Edwardsville, Ill., in December, killing six.

(TNS) — Deon January had a message for Amazon on Tuesday: You failed to protect her son and five others who died in a tornado at an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville in December.

January spoke during a news conference hosted by her attorneys, who last month filed a wrongful-death lawsuit on behalf of her late son, 28-year-old DeAndre Morrow. The lawsuit is against Amazon and the companies that oversaw construction of the warehouse damaged by the tornado.

"Amazon had plenty, plenty of time to alert everyone and they failed to do that and they need to be held responsible," January said.

As she cried talking about DeAndre, she was comforted by her husband, Jerrett, and her daughter, Jerriah.

"It's difficult, day by day as a Mom," January said.

"It's not OK. It's not OK."

January said her son wanted to open businesses such as coin laundries and car washes. He wanted to help the homeless.

Amazon released a statement last week that defends the company's actions.

"The tornado that hit our delivery station was extreme and very sudden, with winds that were much like the force of a category 4 hurricane, and we believe our team did the right thing, moving people to shelter as soon as the warning was issued," according to an email from Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel.

"The storm in Edwardsville last fall was a tragedy and our teams on the ground continue to support our employees and the broader community as they work to recover," Nantel said.

Along with January, the other speakers in the news conference at Mount Joy Baptist Church in Edwardsville included one of her attorneys, Ben Crump — who is known nationally for representing George Floyd's family in Minneapolis — and delivery drivers who survived the tornado.

They criticized Amazon's actions before the tornado and since.

"People died because you put profit over safety," said Crump of Tallahassee, Florida.

As a companion to the wrongful-death lawsuit, an emotional distress lawsuit has been filed on behalf of four drivers who survived the tornado against Amazon and the companies that oversaw the construction of the warehouse.

Other plaintiffs are expected to be added to the lawsuit, according to Jennifer Hightower, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs.

Morrow and five others died when the warehouse walls and roof collapsed in an EF3 tornado packing winds of up to 150 mph at about 8:27 p.m. on Dec. 10. The 1.1 million-square-foot building was on Gateway Commerce Drive near the intersection of Interstate 255 and Interstate 270.

Amazon Drivers Recall Night of Tornado

A driver who survived the tornado, Jamarco Hickman, 32, of Godfrey, is one of the plaintiffs who spoke Tuesday.

Hickman described that night of the tornado:

"Hearing those walls collapse. The sounds of the loud roar of the tornado, when it slammed into our building. And you just don't know, anything could fly at you.

"My fear of death, I could just not put into words. I was terrified. My co-workers were terrified."

Hickman said he has not received any assistance since the tornado. He lost his job and his 2015 Hyundai Elantra was totaled by the walls that collapsed at the warehouse.

Teresa Haley, president of the NAACP of Illinois, said she hopes someone hearing Hickman's story will donate a car to him.

Hickman said he has suffered financially and mentally since the tornado and that he is getting counseling because he is depressed.

The Edwardsville Community Foundation received a $1 million donation from Amazon the day after the tornado, but a representative from the group could not be reached for comment on Tuesday about how the money is being used.

Another driver, Jada Williams, 26, of Glen Carbon said she rushed back to the warehouse after hearing from her cousin about tornado warnings.

"As soon as I put the van in park, the building just started falling down," Williams said. "I honestly thought the building was going to keep falling."

Williams says she now has trouble getting sleep.

"It's like every time I try to go to sleep, I jump up and think about what happened in the building," she said.

Amazon Warehouse Didn't Have Storm Shelter

Crump said Morrow's family and the surviving drivers are like "little Davids" going against the "Goliath" of Amazon.

"You are wrong, Amazon, and we have to speak truth to power," Crump said. "Amazon is one of the most powerful entities in the world and these families, these victims, with the community here in Edwardsville" are standing up to the company.

Crump said he found it ironic that you can buy a storm shelter on Amazon's website but the retail giant didn't have one in the Edwardsville warehouse. He noted that two people also died in an Amazon warehouse in a tornado in Baltimore in 2018.

Crump said he and the plaintiff attorneys are representing those "who were tragically affected and injured in that catastrophe that happened here in Edwardsville that we believe was completely preventable if Amazon lived up to its words. And those word's were, 'We aim to be Earth's safest place to work. We are committed to the safety and well being of all Amazon employees every day.'

"But that wasn't true on Dec. 10."

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration last week announced that it would not issue a citation against Amazon because the retail giant "met minimal federal safety guidelines for storm sheltering."

OSHA said it recommends Amazon make the following changes:

— "Ensure that all employees are provided training and participate in emergency weather drills.

— Include site-specific information in severe weather emergency plans.

— All audible warning devices and locations of the device should be clearly identified in the severe weather emergency plan and readily accessible."

OSHA said its investigation showed that a megaphone at the Edwardsville warehouse was locked in a cage at the time of the tornado and was not accessible. Instead, managers verbally told workers to go to a bathroom in the building.

Crump said OSHA made a "scathing" report of Amazon's actions.

"And that report completely contradicted Amazon's statement about being the safest place on Earth for employees to work and that their employees are their most valuable commodity," he said.

A previous wrongful-death lawsuit was filed earlier this year on behalf of Alice and Randy McEwen, the parents of 26-year-old Austin McEwen, who died in the tornado.

The four others who died in the tornado are Clayton Lynn Cope, 29, of Alton; Etheria S. Hebb, 34, of St. Louis; Larry E. Virden, 46, of Collinsville; and Kevin D. Dickey, 62, of Carlyle.

(c)2022 the Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Ill.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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