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Workers never feared for safety often leaving side door unlocked
By Joelle McGinnis | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/4/2009 5:03 PM | Updated: 8/4/2009 9:45 PM

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Originally published Jan. 10, 1993

Co-workers of the seven murdered employees of the Brown's Chicken & Pasta restaurant in Palatine said they never feared for their security while working, routinely leaving a side door unlocked when workers were present.

The Brown's employees huddling for hours Saturday in small groups at the scene on Northwest Highway all said even though they knew the side door of the fast food eatery often was unlocked, they didn't fear for their safety.

Ken Pittenger, an assistant manager at the Palatine Brown's, said it was common practice for the side door to be unlocked for employees changing shifts, picking up paychecks or taking out garbage.

"I always left the back door unlocked when I closed," Pittenger said. "I never had any fear."

Frank Portillo, president of Brown's Chicken & Pasta, declined to comment on the company's security but said he believes the company has effective security policies.

Palatine police arriving on the scene early Saturday found the green side door at the Brown's restaurant unlocked.

"We never actually had any problems with any customers or employees," said Celso Morales, a Palatine High School senior who worked Monday through Thursday evenings at the restaurant.

"At first I didn't want to believe it," Morales said when he learned of the killings "Then I started thinking about who it might have been (that were killed). Then I began to feel sick."

"I'm sure some new rules are going to go into effect," said Elaine Kuska, manager of the Elk Grove Village Brown's franchise. "We keep all the doors locked when closing and only come in and out the front door, never the back door."

When she opened the restaurant Saturday, Kuska said she was met by an Elk Grove Village police officer checking to make sure everything was all right. She knew nothing about the murders in Palatine until then, she said.

"I'm not surprised," Elk Grove Police Sgt. Bill Zimmerman said about the patrolman's action.

Zimmerman said officers were not specifically told to make extra checks at the Brown's.

"We try to keep an eye on all our businesses," he said.

Zimmerman said the department urges businesses to be "security conscious" while closing up by keeping doors locked and watching for suspicious people.

"It's a scary thing to think about,'' said Ray Scheff, manager of the Brown's in Mount Prospect.

Scheff said the policy in his restaurant, a company-owned store, requires all doors to be locked at closing time and prohibits employees from using the back door for anything other than taking out the garbage.

"They really stress that we are not to use the back door," Scheff said.

As word spread about the murders, other fast-food restaurants took notice as well.

"It already has changed my perspective," said Robert Murray, manager of the Palatine Burger King, about a mile east from Brown's on Northwest Highway.

His restaurant's back door is self-locking, but Murray said from now on he'll keep an eye on employees using the door and make sure it closes all the way.

Daily Herald Staff Writer Steve Warmbir contributed to this story.