CLAYTON COUNTY, Ga. — A local contractor told Channel 2 Action News that his company was ordered by a vendor to destroy metro Atlanta-area Payless store mirrors soon after a Riverdale toddler was killed in one of its stores.
An attorney for Payless denies allegations that the now-bankrupt chain tried to cover up any signs of negligence, noting the actual evidence from the store where the child died has been preserved for trial. The vendor accused of issuing the instructions also denies the claims as the contractor seeks payment for services.
On Thursday evening, Channel 2 Action News received an email from Donnie Cobb with C&C Services, an Austell-based contractor. Cobb and other workers, as well as an invoice and email communication, confirm they were hired to remove mirrors and replace them with panels in Payless' Austell location. The group says the initial conversation with vendors included a request to complete similar work across metro Atlanta, but they ended up doing work in the Austell store.
The company in charge of the $800 invoice was Florida-based Xtreme National Corporation, but an email screenshot shows Arizona-based Vixxo was involved in the work.
Cobb told Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr that Xtreme was hired by Vixxo in a third-party agreement to remove mirrors in several metro Atlanta stores, and he said he and others had direct contact with a team lead for Vixxo who was based in Texas, according to an email screengrab from the woman.
"My instructions were to remove the mirrors and destroy them so the little girl's family/attorney could not get them," he wrote in an email to Channel 2, explaining how he handled phone calls and paperwork on the project.
In a phone interview, Cobb said that phone conversation with the Vixxo team lead was after the work was completed in mid-March. Before that, he said the initial instructions for the project also seemed odd, and that group had not connected the project to 2-year-old Ifrah Siddique’s death.
“What struck me as odd is that they wanted them destroyed,” Cobb said, acknowledging it was reasonable to have the mirrors removed.
Tony Hatcher was one of the actual contractors removing the material. He showed Carr before and after photos of the work they completed in the Austell store location, replacing the heavy mirrors with panels.
“They were hung with just sheetrock screws, coarse thread sheetrock screws,” he explained, showing photos of the small screws that were used along with a metal rack to hang the 120-pound mirrors.
“Not enough to keep them up?” Carr asked.
“No," he answered. “I pulled some of them off by hand.”
C&C said they never got paid for the work and could not reach the vendors involved or find attorneys for the victim’s family. A third employee took the mirrors to his Smyrna home and told Carr he’d also been told by the vendor to destroy the product.
The group said they were willing to turn the mirrors over. Riverdale police closed a criminal investigation in the accident last year, and Cobb said they never contacted authorities.
Carr reached out to the Vixxo vendor alleged to have given the instructions. She did not immediately hear back from her Thursday.
Then Carr reached out to media relations for Vixxo. A spokesperson initially noted they’d never had a relationship with C&C. When Carr told him C&C provided a screenshot of email communication from Vixxo, the company issued the following statement:
“Vixxo is a facilities provider that previously had an agreement with Payless, but does not provide services at this time. Vixxo did not contract directly with C&C Contractors and has not directed anyone as part of its agreement to destroy in-store equipment. We refer all questions on this matter to Payless Shoes for their commentary. Our thoughts are with the family of the little girl involved in the tragic accident.”
An Atlanta attorney representing Payless said the allegations are baseless and do not tie directly back to the wrongful death lawsuit. The evidence from the Riverdale store where Siddiqui died is being preserved by a third party in Norcross, and the victim’s family’s legal team has examined them.
“There has been no destruction of evidence, and (on the) contrary, there’s been preservation of evidence, and this company has done everything it could possibly do to try to make this right for the Siddiqui family,” Ryan Mock said.
“I don’t know who the vendor is,” he said, addressing the contractors’ allegations. “I don’t know what the vendor said. I can tell you the vendor was not authorized to make any such statement on behalf of Payless.”
A member of the Siddiqui family told Carr they had not been made aware of the allegations, and their attorney, Yussuf Aleem, issued the following statement:
“We are disturbed to learn that Payless would seek to destroy crucial evidence of their gross recklessness and are disappointed that Payless has failed to honor its payment obligations to its contractors. We will immediately notify the Court of this concealment and will seek a full investigation to ensure all evidence is preserved and our clients receive full justice in Court as they deserve. This news is a haunting reminder of how an infant’s life could have been spared with a simple change that Payless failed to make.”
Cox Media Group