Official: Man was warned about flooding

Published 8:15 pm Saturday, October 22, 2016

More details are emerging about what happened in the last hours of the life of Derek Cason, a McDonald’s employee who was swept away by floodwaters on his way to work during Hurricane Matthew.

Cason was intent on getting to work on the morning of Oct. 9, when the storm raged and had swelled the Nansemond River at the Kimberly Bridge to more than five feet above flood stage.

Someone dropped him off near the “Road Closed” signs on the other side of the floodwaters, in pitch-black conditions. The power was out in the area, clouds covered the sky, rain poured and the moon was only in its first quarter.

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An occupied Public Works truck was stationed at the barricade, and an employee inside saw Cason exit a vehicle close to the closure, city spokeswoman Diana Klink confirmed.

“The employee warned Mr. Cason that the road was flooded and he should not enter the area,” Klink wrote in an email. “Despite the warning, Mr. Cason continued walking southbound on North Main Street.”

The employee soon lost sight of Cason and was unsure where he had gone, Klink wrote. The employee reported the incident to a Public Works dispatcher and supervisor, who relayed the information to Suffolk Fire and Rescue personnel manning the emergency operations center.

A fire battalion chief responded and checked the area for anyone in distress, Klink wrote. But he didn’t find anyone. He checked McDonald’s and learned the store was closed, since power was out there.

Asked why the Public Works employee didn’t make a greater effort to prevent Cason from walking into such a dangerous situation, Klink wrote, “Everything that could be done during an active storm was done.”

Cason was reported missing about 13 hours later that Sunday. His body was found Wednesday, Oct. 12, in a marshy inlet area down the river.

“This was truly a tragedy, and our hearts go out to Mr. Cason’s family at this difficult time,” Klink wrote.

The McDonald’s restaurant had lost power about 7 p.m. the previous evening, according to a company statement. As a result, it was not able to contact employees to tell them not to come to work.

“Due to a power outage early the previous evening, restaurant management was unable to access employee information or shift schedules to contact crew members during Hurricane Matthew,” reads the statement from Tandem Inc., a local McDonald’s franchise organization.

“As always, the safety of our guests and crew members is our highest priority. Derek Cason was a valued and beloved member of our McDonald’s family, and our heartfelt condolences go out to his family, friends and fellow team members during this difficult time.”

A sign in an employee area of the McDonald’s restaurant warns employees not to talk about Cason, according to a source who has a family member who works there.

Cason’s family did not return a phone call on Friday.