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Employees at other Brown's struggle with shock of deaths
By Catherine Edman | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/4/2009 5:03 PM | Updated: 8/4/2009 9:47 PM

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Originally published Jan. 10, 1993

"It could have been us."

The phrase reverberated through Brown's Chicken & Pasta franchises in the Northwest suburbs as crews worked through the day, grappling with the shocking deaths of "family" members just a few miles down the road in Palatine.

"We're not a McDonald's. We're a small organization, so we're more like a family," said Sam Vignola, owner of the Rolling Meadows franchise on Algonquin Road. "I don't know how anybody could go through something like this and not be deeply affected."

As crews continued with their normal shifts, police released few details about Friday night's violent deaths of seven Brown's employees in the Palatine franchise, at 168 W. Northwest Hwy.

The lack of news further heightened concerns held by employees working at the fast-food franchises, particularly by those working the nighttime shift. Rolling Meadows police agreed to place a routine patrol on the business and watch employees as they leave every night.

"We've done things in the store above and beyond our normal safety procedures. That will continue until this is resolved," Vignola said.

Fear, to some extent, is a normal part of working a nighttime shift at any fast-food business and always in the back of workers' minds as they keep a watch for suspicious customers, said Baldev Sing Ghotra, who works at the Rolling Meadows franchise.

"It could have happened here," employee Nicki Mistry said. "We were all here last night. It could have been us."

Managers and employees at Brown's franchises in Arlington Heights and Mount Prospect expressed similar fears, sadness and shock over the deaths - and the possibility that the crime was random.

"It scares you, but you can't think about it all the time. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen," Ghotra said.

Vignola said the workers Saturday were just trying to get over the shock, and he was trying to keep them focused on the job at hand.

"As an owner, it's like a lump in your stomach (to think that workers were killed). You recognize reality and say it's a freak thing - but it's with a heavy heart," he said.

Frank Portillo, president of Brown's, said he grieves over the tragedy along with the victims' families.

"I extend my condolences to the families of all the people," he said.