‘He could have made it home’: Woman claims Amazon told boyfriend to stay for tornado that took his life

Victim’s girlfriend says death is ‘not really’ Amazon’s fault, adding that this was a ‘what-if situation’

Shweta Sharma
Monday 13 December 2021 13:35
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<p>Larry Virden, 46, was one of the six people killed on 10 December after a tornado ripped off a major portion of a massive Amazon facility in Illinois</p>

Larry Virden, 46, was one of the six people killed on 10 December after a tornado ripped off a major portion of a massive Amazon facility in Illinois

The girlfriend of one of the victims who was killed after a tornado led to the collapse of an Amazon warehouse in Illinois has reportedly claimed that her boyfriend was told by the company to stay there and not drive home until the storm passed.

Former army veteran Larry Virden, 46, was one of the six people killed on Friday night after the tornado ripped off a major portion of a massive Amazon facility in Illinois.

Cherie Jones, Virden’s girlfriend of 13 years, told the New York Post on Sunday that her boyfriend’s last text to her was almost 16 minutes before the tornado hit the 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’,” Ms Jones recalled.

She said Virden had “20 minutes to get home” because the tornado did not touch down until 8.39pm that night. She added that the couple lived in Collinsville, which was about 13 minutes away from the warehouse.

Larry Virden, 46, was one of the six people killed on 10 December after a tornado ripped off a major portion of a massive Amazon facility in Illinois

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

Virden had been working with Amazon for the last five months after serving in Iraq. Authorities had earlier told the family they had found Virden’s wallet and work ID, but nothing else, according to a report published by KTVI FOX 2 network on Saturday.

The couple had three children between the ages nine and 12 and he had also adopted another child.

Ms Jones said her boyfriend had a missile blow up in front of him in Iraq, just 200 yards away, but was lucky to escape unhurt.

“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.

When asked by the Post if she thought Amazon was responsible for Virden’s death, Ms Jones said: “Not really. But it’s that what-if situation: what if they would have let him leave? He could have made it home.”

About 150 yards of the Amazon facility in Illinois collapsed as a result of the tornado.

The tragedy has put the e-commerce giant under fresh scrutiny over its workplace practices, including previous history in which workers were sometimes prevented from keeping their mobile phones with them on the job.

The site of a roof collapse at an Amazon distribution centre

The company had withdrawn this policy of prohibiting workers from having their phones on warehouse floors and said they would permit employees and drivers to have their cell phones while on the job to provide emergency alerts, reported Bloomberg.

“After these deaths, there is no way in hell I am relying on Amazon to keep me safe. If they institute the no cell phone policy, I am resigning,” an unnamed Amazon worker at a nearby facility told the business news portal.

“We’re deeply saddened by the news that members of our Amazon family passed away as a result of the storm in Edwardsville, IL,” Amazon said in a statement over the warehouse deaths to The Independent.

“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,” it said.

At least 90 people have been feared dead in Kentucky alone after tornadoes ripped through six US states, according to the state’s governor Andy Beshear.

He said it will “ultimately be the longest tornado in certainly US history, from the point where it touched down to when it finally picked back up.”

President Joe Biden on Sunday declared the tornadoes to be a major federal disaster in the state after Mr Beshear formally requested the declaration.

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