The cause of death of Amazon’s first chief financial officer in 2013 was quickly snapped up by online users after it was finally revealed six years later and cited as an example of recklessness by the company she had helped propel to the heights of success.
At the time, reports of 50-year-old Joy Covey’s death described it simply as an auto accident. According to the San Jose Mercury News:
Riding her bike down one of Skyline Boulevard’s treacherous hills, she collided with a van. Like so much else in Covey’s life, her death came suddenly, a shock to friends and admirers who never knew what to expect from her next.
But in December 2019, a joint effort by investigative journalist outlets Buzzfeed and ProPublica revealed that the van was actually delivering Amazon packages for a subcontractor:
Covey, 50, had gone out for an afternoon bike ride. As she zipped down a forested stretch of Skyline Boulevard on Sept. 18, 2013, a delivery van turned left directly into her path.
“I heard a scream, immediately followed by a crash,”the van’s driver later testified. Covey was killed.
The white Mazda had been sent out by OnTrac, one of the regional carriers Amazon had been using to gain a measure of shipping independence. The driver, a subcontractor, later testified that the “vast majority” of his deliveries were for Amazon, but he was not using Amazon’s routing technology or directions.
According to the two organizations, more than sixty Amazon delivery drivers have been involved in car accidents since June 2015. More than a year before their report, nine drivers working through Amazon through third-party contractors told Business Insider that workers urinated in bottles to keep up with the company’s work demands, often leaving the bottles in their trucks.
One also said that drivers were forced to exceed speed limits while completing their deliveries:
“We sped like crazy, everyone I know,” said Donato DiGiulio, a Chicago-area driver who worked for New York-based Need it Now for eight months. “That’s the only way we were able to finish our routes on time. We were zooming through residential areas, all of us, all the time.”
DiGiulio said he almost hit a child playing in the street during a delivery. He slowed down after that and started stopping at stop signs. But then his route times also slowed.
According to the report, Covey’s death spurred no changes within Amazon:
But for all the heartbreak among her former colleagues, the fatal crash did not alter the course the company was charting on delivery. Indeed, the system Amazon was creating would come to rely on low-cost contractors like the one involved in the crash that killed Covey.
In a statement, Amazon rejected the notion that it had put speed ahead of safety, calling the new investigation “another attempt by ProPublica and BuzzFeed to push a preconceived narrative that is simply untrue. Nothing is more important to us than safety.”
The story spread further on social media when it was spread by Joshua Collins, a congressional candidate in Washington state.
“As a truck driver, I’ve hauled a lot of freight for Amazon,” he wrote on Twitter. “The speed they require from drivers to fulfill their 2-day & even 1-day deliveries puts drivers & the public at risk. Being able to order something from [1,000] miles away & have it in under 2 days comes with a price.”