No charges in toxic tea incident at Utah eatery

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — No charges will be filed in a case involving a woman who nearly died after unknowingly drinking iced tea mixed with chemicals at a suburban Salt Lake City restaurant, prosecutors said Friday.

Prosecutors determined after reviewing an extensive investigation by the South Jordan Police Department that there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, Salt Lake County Attorney Sim Gill said Friday in a short news release.

Authorities have said an employee at Dickey's Barbecue in South Jordan unintentionally put the heavy-duty cleaner lye in a sugar bag, and another worker on Aug. 10 mistakenly mixed it into the iced-tea dispenser.

Later that day, Jan Harding took a single sip of the sweetened iced tea and suffered deep, ulcerated burns to her esophagus. She was hospitalized in critical condition.

Lye, an odorless chemical that looks like sugar, is used for degreasing deep fryers and is the active ingredient in Drano.

Harding, 67, spent nearly two weeks in a Salt Lake City hospital. She has been out of the hospital for weeks and is recovering.

Her attorney, Paxton Guymon, wasn't immediately for comment.

The Dallas-based Dickey's Barbecue Restaurants Inc. didn't immediately have any comment. The company earlier said the incident was isolated and unprecedented in the chain's 73-year history.

Guymon has said he discovered another lye incident at the restaurant in July. An employee burned herself when she stuck her finger in a sugar container and licked it to test for the chemical cleaner, he said.

Harding was the first person to drink from the chemically laced batch of tea, and no one else was harmed. She said recently in her first public comments that it felt like an all-consuming fire in her mouth.

She said she is recovering but still doesn't feel like herself. She said doctors say she must undergo additional tests before they can determine what long-term complications she could face.

Harding and her Baptist minister husband, Jim Harding, have said they are not angry with anyone at Dickey's. They said they are sharing their story in hopes that other restaurants will take measures to prevent something similar from happening, perhaps by adding colored dye to dangerous chemicals.