UTAH (WITI) — Dickey’s Barbecue in Utah had just opened for lunch on August 10th when surveillance video caught Jan Harding buying the first cup of sweet tea sold that day — a purchase she instantly regretted.
The drink Harding purchased that day had accidentally been mixed in with a toxic cleaning chemical, according to police. After just one sip, Harding nearly died from severe chemical burns to her mouth, throat and esophagus.
“When you watch the footage, you can see that as soon as she takes a sip, immediately, she knew something was wrong,” Harding’s attorney, Paxton Guymon told FOX6’s sister station FOX13 in Salt Lake City.
The surveillance video shows Harding tried to wash out whatever she ingested with water, not realizing at the time she had swallowed a toxic cleaning chemical.
In the footage, her husband, Jim Harding, returned from the restroom to find her leaning over a counter in pain. He quickly went to find an employee to figure out what was in her drink.
FOX13 in Salt Lake City reports the family has since learned that a former employee of the restaurant had accidentally mixed in the company’s fryer cleaner with the sugar container because they looked the same.
However, according to Guymon, that mistake was made five weeks prior to when the Harding’s visited the restaurant, leaving them wondering why the mix was never thrown away.
“Everyone at this location knew that this bucket of sugar contained contaminated cleaner, that it was dangerous, and that it wasn’t disposed of,” Guymon told FOX13.
On the morning Harding bought the tea, the video shows an employee removing the toxic mix from a manager’s office, where investigators said staff had stored it. In the clip, the employee put seven scoops of it into a separate container, which he then took out into the restaurant.
According to Guymon, the employee actually worked for Dickey’s Corp., not the local franchise owner.
“The store manager had quit the day before. Somebody needed to step in and keep the place running. I don’t know what this person’s duties were. We haven’t been able to speak with him, but he was the one who put this lye based cleaner into the iced tea mix,” Guymon told FOX13.
Recently, the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office announced it would not pursue criminal charges in the case. However, the family still has their own case pending.
“Whatever can be done at the parent company level to make sure this doesn’t happen again, the Hardings want to see that done,” Guymon said.
FOX13 reports at the corporate level, the family wants Dickey’s to implement new policies and procedures for storage and safety at all of its franchise locations across the country.
FOX13 has reached out to attorneys with Dickey’s Barbecue for comment but has not yet received a response.
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