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Woman poisoned by tea at Utah restaurant can now speak

First Published Aug 17 2014 06:42PM      Last Updated Aug 29 2014 09:18 am

Attorney Paxton Guymon holds a photograph of Jim and Jan Harding during a news conference in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. Jan Harding, 67, is in critical condition at a Salt Lake City hospital's burn unit, unable to talk and fighting for her life, Guymon said. She drank sweet tea containing a toxic cleaning chemical, severely burning her mouth and throat at a Utah restaurant after an employee mistook the substance for sugar and mixed it into a dispenser, Guymon said. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

For the first time since she accidentally drank lye at a Dickey’s Barbecue, Jan Harding spoke.

Her family attorney, Paxton Guymon, confirmed as much in an email Sunday.

"She is showing signs of improvement," though he added that her voice is strained.

Her speech marks a second day of improvement for the 67-year-old retired school teacher. On Saturday, Guymon confirmed that she was able to whisper and get out of bed, the first encouraging signs after days of no improvements.

A week ago, Harding suffered severe burns to her mouth and throat after taking a sip of sweet tea at a South Jordan Dickey’s; apparently, a preliminary investigation showed that an employee had mixed lye into the tea thinking it was sugar, Guymon has said.

The cleaning product is meant for degreasing deep fryers and contains the odorless chemical lye, the active ingredient in drain cleaners.

Her husband and their three adult children have been at her bedside, praying for her recovery from the deep, ulcerated burns in her upper esophagus that have left her in critical condition at University Hospital.

South Jordan Cpl. Sam Winkler said police are waiting to see what happens with Harding’s condition before moving forward with possible arrests or charges.

Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants Inc. said in a statement late Friday that it was an isolated incident and nothing like it had happened in the 73 years the Dallas-based chain has operated. The South Jordan restaurant remains open after county health officials inspected it and found all chemicals properly labeled and separated from food items.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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