EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. — An attorney representing the family of a man killed when an EF-3 tornado struck an Amazon Warehouse in Edwardsville says he has uncovered new information that could prove the building wasn't up to code.
When the family of Austen McEwen filed a wrongful death suit against Amazon in January, they stated their reasoning loud and clear.
“Amazon knew a tornado was coming but made the decision to have our son and others work during a peak delivery season for Amazon instead of evacuating the area with no storm shelter in place,” said Alice McEwen.
McEwen family attorney Jack Casciato says those concerns are justified after a FOIA request he filed with West County Fire & EMS noted concerns from structural engineers after seeing columns inside the building that “weren’t welded or bolted at the base, but instead only a bead of what appeared to be some sort of caulk around the column at the finished floorline” before adding that they were “very concerned about the stability of the remaining walls and suspended steelwork.”
“There’s been enough whistleblowers and things that were there at the facility that say we had no alarm system as required by OSHA,” said attorney Jack Casciato. “There were no proper safety drills, and regards to a shelter people were sheltering, but there wasn’t a storm shelter.”
Amazon Spokesman Kelly Nantel responded to those claims through a statement that reads in part: “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 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.”
Through their attorney, Contegra Construction which is also named in the suit said, “While we will not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit given the pending litigation, we stand behind our company’s record of quality construction. We are not aware of any code violations at the Amazon fulfillment center. We are heartbroken by the devastation of the tornado to our community and those who lost their lives or property, and we believe the allegations in this lawsuit against Contegra are without merit. Contegra will vigorously defend our company’s work and our reputation.”
However, Casciato believes this newly discovered information raises more questions.
“Profits and productivity can take a 12-hour backseat to ensuring something like this doesn’t happen again,” said Casciato.
The City of Edwardsville also released a statement Tuesday.
"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," the release states, in part.
The city said the engineer who questioned the structure was part of a technical rescue team assigned to evaluate the stability of the building when search and rescue crews were initially looking to go inside. City officials also noted the OSHA investigation is still underway.
View the full release from Edwardsville in the document below or by clicking here.
View the report from West County Fire and EMS below or by clicking here.