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Utah prosecutor to review case of lye-spiked tea at Dickey's

Published August 18, 2014 1:43 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Prosecutors could decide as early as Wednesday whether to charge employees at a South Jordan restaurant where an industrial cleaning chemical was mixed with a woman's iced tea, badly burning her throat last week.

Police in South Jordan on Monday forwarded their findings to Salt Lake County Attorney Sim Gill — including allegations that staff at Dickey's Barbecue discovered more than a month ago that a toxic chemical had been mixed with sugar, said Cpl. Sam Winkler.

Authorities have said an employee put the cleaner, not knowing what it was, in a container of sugar last month. A witness reported to investigators that a supervisor on July 5 dipped a finger in the odd-looking substance and tasted it; the supervisor then suffered chemical burns to the tongue, Winkler said.

Winkler said Monday there have been many different statements from many different people about how exactly the chemical got into the sugar and then remained there for a month. The substance was mixed into the iced tea dispenser Aug. 10. Customer Jan Harding, 67, drank the tea and suffered critical burns to her mouth and esophagus. Her attorney has said she is improving and is regaining her ability to speak.

The cleaning product, used to remove grease from fryers, contains sodium hydroxide, or lye — the active ingredient in drain cleaner.

Police will make no arrests unless Gill decides to file charges, Winkler said.

"Because of the severity of the ... injuries, we want to make sure our investigation was reviewed by a third party to make sure we've covered everything" before arrests are made, Winkler said. Detectives have asked prosecutors to consider a charge of reckless endangerment, but Winkler would not identify suspects, saying the investigators reviewed all employees, current and past, who were connected to the lye or tea.

Gill said he couldn't speak about the case, other than to say his office will carefully review the findings.

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 eatery 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 article.

ealberty@sltrib.com

Twitter: @erinalberty