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Harried restaurant worker locks the doors

By DAVID PEDREIRA

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2000


NORTHDALE -- A Taco Bell employee had a novel solution Tuesday when the lunch hour got crazy: She locked the doors.

Customers couldn't get in or out for several minutes.

When someone called 911, sheriff's deputies and firefighters descended on the restaurant. They found at least a dozen customers locked inside.

Deputies had to knock on the drive-through window to get an employee's attention. Only then were the doors unlocked.

"God forbid if a fire had started in there," said Hillsborough sheriff's Deputy Bryan Pille. "How are people going to get out?"

One woman became frightened when the doors were locked, witnesses said. She yelled at workers to let her outside, and then made a call on her mobile telephone.

"I got to thinking, "Oh my gosh, what if they are being robbed?' " said Vanessa Dallman of Lutz, as firefighters and deputies combed the restaurant.

The Sheriff's Office contacted Taco Bell's corporate headquarters to send a manager. The regular manager had called in sick.

A company spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Customers said this was not the first time employees closed the Mapledale Boulevard restaurant because they were busy.

Robert Bennett, who occasionally spends his lunch break at the Taco Bell, said customers became irate Tuesday because of slow service. At least one man made racial slurs aimed at the restaurant's Hispanic workers, said Bennett.

"This is my last visit here," he said.

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