Longtime florist, Amazon worker, judge among tornado victims

A clearer picture of some of the dozens of victims of tornadoes that ripped through five states in the Midwest and South is emerging

Via AP news wire
Monday 13 December 2021 20:03
Midwest Tornadoes
Midwest Tornadoes

A longtime florist in Tennessee who recently “started on her new adventure” as an airport security worker. An Amazon warehouse worker in Illinois who was an outdoorsman and avid motorcycle rider. A Kentucky judge known for his common sense. A “typical” grandmother from Missouri.

These were among the dozens of people killed during Friday night’s tornadoes that ripped through five states in the Midwest and South. There were dozens of confirmed deaths in Arkansas Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Tennessee, but those numbers were expected to rise. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday at least 64 had died in his state alone.

Here are some of the people who perished during the tornadoes.

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Lisa Taylor had worked 14 years as a florist at the same family-owned shop in Memphis, Tennessee, when she left in October to start a new career at the airport with the Transportation Security Administration. Co-workers at Rachel’s Flowers congratulated her with balloons on a sign that read, “Good Luck, Lisa.”

Taylor, 54, stayed in touch with her friends at the flower shop, making plans to return part-time over the holidays to make some extra money. Then the phone rang Saturday, just as the power came back on at the shop after violent storms passed through overnight. Taylor’s longtime boyfriend was calling with tragic news. A large tree had fallen through her roof overnight, killing Taylor as she slept in bed.

“She had just gotten started on her new adventure and she’s just been taken,” said Angie Morton, who worked as a florist alongside Taylor for several years.

A single mother of two children now in their 20s, Taylor took her new government job for higher wages and the extra stability that came with health insurance and other benefits, friends said.

But she had a creative spark that made her a natural when it came to working with flowers, Morton said, whether she was helping grieving families design funeral arrangements or using bits and pieces of broken, castoff jewelry to add some custom sparkle to high school girls’ prom corsages.

“She really liked to bling everything up,” Morton said. “She would take stuff other people would throw in the trash and make beautiful things out of it. If she found an earring in a store that didn’t have a matching pair, she would think, ‘I know there’s somebody who that would be perfect for her corsage.’”

Charles Newell, deputy emergency management administrator for Shelby County, Tennessee, said she was the only known storm death in the county that includes Memphis.

Rachel Greer, the flower shop’s owner, was helping plan floral arrangements for Taylor’s funeral. She said Taylor’s daughter had requested “a sea of purple flowers” such as lavender roses and chrysanthemums to match her mother’s favorite color.

Meanwhile customers were dropping by the shop to offer condolences and leaving notes. One of them read: “Lisa was a light in a dark world.”

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Brian Crick, a judge for two western Kentucky counties, was known for his sound judgment when it came to solving problems, a fellow judge said.

Crick, 43, was a district judge for Muhlenberg and McLean counties who handled criminal misdemeanor cases, traffic court and juvenile cases, said Circuit Judge Brian W. Wiggins. Wiggins said he has known his fellow judge since 2005, when Crick was a public defender. He later was in private practice before taking the bench in 2011.

Many of the defendants who came before him weren’t represented by attorneys, and Crick “was very good about seeing to it that their rights were protected,” Wiggins said. “He had a very common sense approach. He was very level-headed about how to handle cases and how to talk to people.”

Wiggins was killed when the storm hit his family's home in Muhlenberg County. He is survived by a wife and three children, all of whom made it through the storm without major injuries, Wiggins said. “He was just a consummate family man ... very engaged with his children and his wife. They were number one to him.”

“We are especially heartbroken to get the news,” Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton said in a statement. “This is a shocking loss to his family, his community and the court system and his family is in our prayers.”

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Two of June Pennington’s children said the Manila, Arkansas, resident was devoted to her four children and nine grandchildren and had a particular soft spot for animals.

Pennington, 52, was working as an assistant manager at a Dollar General store in nearby Leachville, Arkansas, when it was hit.

“She didn’t love anything as much in life as her kids and grandkids,” said Christie Pennington. “She was truly selfless and loved whole-heartedly.”

David Benefield, the oldest of June Pennington’s four children, said he was born when his mother was only 14.

“She was a kid raising a kid. We were just like best friends,” he said. “It’s crazy how close you become.”

Her children remember her as someone who “would do anything that we asked her to do,” Benefield said. Even after her children were grown, they said June Pennington wanted to spend as much time with them as possible.

Christie Pennington said her mother adopted dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, turtles and even a ferret.

“If there was ever an animal in need of a home, we took it in,” she said.

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Clayton Lynn Cope, 29, had been working at Amazon for more than a year before the storm killed him at a company facility in southwestern Illinois.

Five other workers also died at the facility located outside St. Louis.

Cope, who lived in nearby Alton, Illinois, had joined the Navy after graduating high school and was an avid outdoorsman who also liked to ride motorcycles and play video games. He had a special place in his heart for his dog, Draco, said his younger sister, Rachel Cope.

“He would go out of his way for anyone,” Cope said in a written message.

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Ollie Borgmann, 84, was a sweet and “typical grandmother” who had lived in her home in Defiance, Missouri, for decades.

A tornado blew through the home she shared with her 84-year-old husband, Vernon, on Friday night, blowing the house off its foundation, as well as that of a neighbor’s house in the town located about 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of St. Louis.

Her son, Mark Borgmann, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his brother, Keith, was on the phone with their father during the powerful storm when the line went dead. The next thing Vernon Borgmann remembers is waking up in a nearby field surrounded by debris. He suffered scratches and bruises but will be OK, said Mark Borgmann.

When Ollie Borgmann was found by rescuers, she was awake. She died later at a hospital.

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Bynum reported in Savannah, Georgia. Associated Press writers Travis Loller in Nashville, Tennessee; Sophie Tareen in Chicago; Josh Funk in Omaha, Nebraska; Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida; and Jeff Amy in Atlanta contributed to this article.

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