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Supermarket Chain Devastated By Crash That Kills Five Top Executives

December 12, 1991 GMT

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) _ The top five executives of Bruno’s Inc., a multibillion-dollar Southern supermarket chain, were killed Wednesday when their company plane crashed in the hills of northwest Georgia.

The dead included five top executives of the Birmingham-based company, including chairman Angelo J. Bruno and vice chairman Lee J. Bruno, who were brothers.

″We are deeply saddened by this tragedy,″ said a statement issued by Ronald J. Bruno, president and chief executive officer of Bruno’s, and Joseph Bruno, chairman emeritus of the chain and another brother. Ronald Bruno is Angelo Bruno’s son.

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The executives were flying as part of an annual Christmas holiday tour of Bruno’s stores, which number more than 240 in six Southern states. Everyone on board the plane died. The cause of the crash was under investigation.

Other top Bruno’s executives killed were Sam Vacarella, senior vice president of merchandise; Edward C. Hyde, vice president of store operations; and R. Randy Paige Jr., vice president of personnel.

Karl Mollica, director of produce, and Mary Faust, senior vice president of Bruno’s advertising agency, Steiner-Bressler, died in the accident, as did pilots John Tesney and Rob Stamps.

Bruno’s was founded in 1932 by Joseph Bruno, the son of Italian immigrants and the brother of Angelo Bruno. Joseph Bruno borrowed $600 from his family’s savings to open a small, corner grocery in downtown Birmingham.

That investment has been parlayed into a network of stores with annual sales exceeding $2.6 billion. That does not include the related Big B Drugs, which spun off from Bruno’s in 1981.

A financial consultant familiar with Bruno’s said the company had a policy against Angelo and Ronald Bruno flying together on the same airplane, and that practice would help ensure the company’s continued success.

The family long has been one of Birmingham’s biggest contributors to civic and educational projects, donating millions to university and community developments.

″Many, many people in Alabama have been enriched by the great generosity of the Bruno family and by the strong support the family has given the community,″ said Gov. Guy Hunt in a statement. ″This is a tragic loss for all of Alabama ...″

Paul Garrison, executive vice president of Bruno’s Corp., said the company will ″have to carry on despite our grief and we will. We have a responsibility to our customers, our employees, and our shareholders.

″All of our 22,000 employees will dedicate themselves to the task at hand - uninterrupted service to the communities and the people we serve.″

A financial consultant who tracks the company, George Salem of Robinson- Humphrey, said ″stockholders are going to be a little apprehensive for some time.″

″I don’t know if the company will ever recover from this because the Bruno family has meant so much for the city of Birmingham,″ Salem said.

The National Association of Securities Dealers temporarily halted trading on Bruno’s stock at 12:42 p.m. CST as news of the crash spread. The stock went down 62 cents before trading stopped with the over-the-counter stock at $12.25 per share.

Bob McCraney, who trades Bruno’s stock for J.C. Bradford and Co. in Nashville, Tenn., said trading likely would resume on Thursday.