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Family of Amazon warehouse worker killed in tornado working with safety task force

The parents of Clayton Cope, who was killed in the tornado at the age of 29, are working with state legislators trying to tackle building standards.

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. — Saturday, Dec. 10, marks the first anniversary of a tornado that struck an Amazon fulfillment center in Edwardsville, killing six people.

The parents of Clayton Cope, who was killed in the tornado at the age of 29, are working with state legislators trying to tackle building standards.

Lynn and Carla Cope are not looking forward to reliving the events of a year ago. 

Clayton’s dog, Draco, a 5-year-old Black and Tan Coonhound, no longer waits for his master to come home.

“We just kind of adopted Draco," Clayton’s father, Lynn, said. "This was my son’s dog. He’s been a real help to me, to help me get through things. My daughters really helped me, and Draco does, too, because he understands. He misses him, too.”

The Copes spoke to their son on his cell phone the night he died inside Amazon’s fulfillment center.

“Meteorologist Tracy Hinson on Channel 5 there -- I was watching her,” Lynn said. “That’s why we called because she told us it was coming right for them. We could see that red line on the TV screen.”

Carla continued a story they had painfully told, many times.

“We told him the storm was coming and he needed to take shelter,” Carla said. She fought back tears.

“He said he needed to tell someone," she said.

Lynn’s speech slowed as he finished the all-too-familiar sequence of events.

“We told him we loved him and that’s the last communication we had,” he said.

“I saw on the weather coverage," Tracy said. "‘Here’s a debris field,’ and I knew exactly where she was referring to, because I work at Amazon,” Lynn said. “I could see the highway. I knew exactly right where that building was. I said, ‘We got to go,’ and we went down there and stayed down there.”

Carla picked it up from there.

“Until they found his body at 4:30 in the morning,” she said.

In April, OSHA officials investigating the tornado deaths told Amazon the company met minimum federal safety standards when the tornado hit, but there were, “issues that raised concerns about potential risk to employees during severe weather emergencies.”

Those include a missing megaphone, a lack of severe weather training for employees, as well as familiarity with the location of the weather shelter, and that Amazon’s storm plan was not customized for weather in this part of the county.

“OSHA didn’t really say anything,” said Lynn.

“Amazon was within minimum safety standards,” Carla also said.

“Minimum safety standards,” Lynn said. “Six people perish...that’s wrong. How can that be?”

An attorney for victims’ families told 5 On Your Side he uncovered a report, written by a first responder and trained engineer, that reads:

“I became concerned when I noticed that none of the columns appeared to be ripped or torn from the base. Looking at the base of the columns more closely, I could find no weld or bolted connection at the base of any column, but only a bead of what appeared to be some sort of caulk around the column at the finished floor line.”

A year later, with an urn containing Clayton’s remains sharing the fireplace mantle with Christmas stockings, the Copes said they find comfort where they can.

Lynn was asked about Draco’s reaction to Clayton’s death.

“He’d stand right here,” Lynn said, pointing to a spot on the floor in their living room. "Just wait for Clay to come.”

“He’d stare at the door,” Carla said.

In April, Amazon officials released a statement, saying in part:

“It’s premature and misleading to suggest there were any structural issues. The original developer completed construction on this building in 2018 in compliance with all applicable building codes as documented by the city and the original owner. The building was re-inspected and passed city inspections in 2020 when Amazon leased the building.”

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