Amazon worker who died in warehouse collapse wasn’t allowed to leave, girlfriend says

Amazon worker who died in warehouse collapse wasn’t allowed to leave, girlfriend says

One of the victims who was killed when a tornado collapsed an Amazon Warehouse in Illinois texted his girlfriend before the deadly tornado struck saying that the company had ordered him to hold off driving home and stay put until the storm passed.

Larry Virden, 46, was killed on Friday night when the roof came down at a massive Amazon facility.

“I got text messages from him. He always tells me when he is filling up the Amazon truck when he is getting ready to go back…I was like ‘ OK, I love you.’ He’s like, ‘well Amazon won’t let me leave until after the storm blows over,’” his girlfriend of 13 years, Cherie Jones, told The Post on Sunday.

She said the text was sent around 8:23 p.m., 16 minutes before the tornado reportedly touched down at 8:39. The couple lived in nearby Collinsville, which Jones said is about 13 minutes away from the warehouse.

We heard the tornado didn’t touch down until 8:39 so he had 20 minutes to get home,” she said.

“I messaged him and that was the last text message I got from him,” she said. “I told him where we live, it was only lightning at the time. After that, I got nothing from him.”

Larry Virden was one of six Amazon workers that were killed when a warehouse caved in on itself on December 9, 2021.
Larry Virden was one of six Amazon workers who were killed when a warehouse caved in on itself on December 9, 2021.
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Virden, who had worked for Amazon for 5 months, was the father of four children, including adopted children, and the couple of 13 years had three children together between the ages of 9 and 12.

Asked if she faults Amazon for his death, Jones said with a sigh: “Not really. But it’s that what-if situation:  what if they would have let him leave? He could have made it home.”

Amazon said that the Edwardsville site received a tornado warning through various alerts, and the team on site at the time worked to get as many workers and partners into a designated shelter in place area.

Cherie Jones (left) says that she received a from Larry Virden (right) saying the Amazon would not let the employees return home until the storm blew over.
Cherie Jones (left) says that she received a from Larry Virden (right) saying the Amazon would not let the employees return home until the storm blew over.
Courtesy of Cherie Jones

She said he liked working at the company because he got to work outside.

Virden was an US Army veteran who served in Iraq.

“He had a missile blow up in front of him like 200 yards away, so he was lucky over there,” she said.

“When he was over there, he made his peace with the maker so he was prepared to die. But we didn’t want him to die now,” she said, her voice rising.

She said her children are having a difficult time comprehending the loss of their father.

“My oldest boy, he thinks that daddy is going to come home, but now we have to tell him that daddy’s not coming home. When my daughter came into the house, she was like ‘Where’s daddy? Where’s daddy?’ And she started balling because she knew something was wrong.”

“The youngest doesn’t understand it either. We are really going to have to sit down with them.”

The 1.1 million-square-foot facility opened in July 2020 and employed about 190 individuals, Amazon said. On site, orders were prepared for last-mile delivery to customers by Amazon’s delivery service partners and Amazon Flex drivers.

The company said that employees and drivers are permitted to have their cell phones while working, which can provide emergency weather alerts and allow employees to contact family members.

Amazon has previously prohibited workers from having their phones on warehouse floors, forcing employees to leave their phones in their vehicles or in employee lockers — a policy that the company backed off on during the pandemic, according to Bloomberg.

“After these deaths, there is no way in hell I am relying on Amazon to keep me safe,” an Amazon employee from a neighboring facility in Illinois told the outlet. “If they institute the no cell phone policy, I am resigning.”

The company said Sunday it is donating $1 million to the Edwardsville Community Foundation to support recovery efforts. Amazon also said it is reaching out to the victims’ families to see how they can support them and is additionally providing relief to other Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement Sunday: “We’re deeply saddened by the news that members of our Amazon family passed away as a result of the storm in Edwardsville, IL. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones, and everyone impacted by the tornado. We also want to thank all the first responders for their ongoing efforts on scene. We’re continuing to provide support to our employees and partners in the area.”

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