EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – An attorney is alleging e-commerce giant Amazon acted with negligence in the deaths of workers when the company’s Edwardsville warehouse was struck by a tornado in December 2021. Six people inside died when the building partially collapsed.
“We have obtained via a Freedom of Information (Act) request of a national structural engineer’s report that indicates the columns in the area where the building collapsed were unanchored, which is a grave violation of the International Building Code,” said Jack Casciato, Clifford Law Offices.
Casciato filed a wrongful death suit against Amazon and several other companies in January on behalf of the family of 26-year-old Austin McEwen, who died inside the Amazon facility. McEwen was an independent contractor working as an Amazon delivery driver.
The attorney said Amazon acted with negligence in construction of the building and a disregard for the lives of workers.
“I mean, how can you have worker working in a building where you know these support columns—or you should know—are not properly anchored and any severe inclement weather, especially in an area that calls itself tornado alley, could cause exactly what happened here to occur and walls to collapse on people,” Casciato said.
An Amazon spokesperson said it’s too soon to know if there were structural deficiencies with the building, and the company is conducting its own investigation into the collapse.
“Our focus continues to be on supporting our team and all those affected by this tragic natural disaster,” Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said. “Investigators continue to conduct a comprehensive forensic examination of the building and debris — so it’s premature and misleading to suggest there were any structural issues.”
The attorney identified the structural engineer he quoted as being with West County Fire and EMS. FOX 2 reached out to that agency and they said they could not comment because of the litigation. Jeanne Wojcieszak, director of finance for the city of Edwardsville, released a statement Tuesday saying the investigation into the collapse is ongoing and any claims or determinations made would be premature.
The City of Edwardsville would like to share the most current and factual information regarding the investigation status of the Amazon Distribution Center, which was severely damaged by an EF3 tornado December 10, 2021, when six lives were lost.
First and foremost, determinations regarding the structural integrity of the building currently being made by any individual or group are premature, as the official investigation has not been completed. Reference information is provided below:
1. There have been media reports stating that a “government engineer” found that structural issues existed at the Amazon location. This individual has been identified as Dan Bruno. Mr. Bruno was on scene as part of a technical rescue team (St. Louis Regional UASI Strike Team 3) assigned to evaluate the stability of the structure for the safe entry of search and rescue teams.
2. At this time, the Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA) is performing the investigation on the building, and no determination as to its structural integrity has been communicated to the City. Realty Income Illinois Properties 4, LLC, the building owner, and the building tenant (Amazon) are completing the forensic investigation. The status of that investigation is also currently ongoing.
Responsibilities Under the City’s Purview
During construction, the City conducts visual inspections for general conformance with plans and code requirements. Third party inspections are conducted by either the building owner, or the owner’s agent per code requirements.
Current Building Codes
Current building codes require that a building must be able to sustain 90 mile per hour winds that are “straight line” winds. The EF3 tornado that hit the Amazon Distribution Center was determined to have 150 mile per hour winds that were tornadic winds. Due to this incident, the City will be working with State representatives to explore ways that building codes be fortified to safeguard against any future events that could threaten the health, safety or welfare of its residents, employees that work in Edwardsville businesses, as well as business and property owners.
Jeanne Wojcieszak, City of Edwardsville