SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The attorney for a woman who nearly died after unknowingly drinking tea laced with a chemical cleaning compound at a Utah restaurant said Thursday an employee at the eatery burned herself a month earlier on the same substance.
Family attorney Paxton Guymon's comments came at a news conference that also was attended by the burned woman's husband, who said she is recovering but suffering from nightmares as she relives the incident.
Guymon said he learned about the previous burn during his investigation into what led to the tea incident at Dickey's Barbecue in a Salt Lake City suburb.
He said the Dickey's employee burned her tongue July 5 after she stuck her finger in a sugar container to test if it had any of the chemical cleaner, and then licked her finger.
The worker's tongue started bleeding and blisters formed, Guymon said, adding she still is not back to normal.
"To me it means that the company was on notice that there was a hazardous substance that wasn't properly labeled, that wasn't properly controlled," the attorney said. "And that things should have and could have been done to prevent my client, Mrs. Harding, from being injured."
The employee quit her job at the restaurant Aug. 9, the day before 67-year-old Jan Harding of Sandy took a sip of the sweetened iced tea and suffered deep burns in her upper esophagus, Guymon said.
Dickey's Barbecue Restaurants Inc. issued a statement last week that what happened to Harding was an isolated incident and nothing like it had happened in the 73 years the Dallas-based chain has operated. The company did not immediately comment on the new allegations.
Salt Lake County prosecutors are reviewing the findings of a police investigation and have not yet announced whether charges will be filed.
Harding's husband, Jim, said he is not upset or seeking vengeance for what happened. The retired Baptist pastor said he feels sad for everyone involved and is focused solely on his wife's recovery, not criminal charges or lawsuits.
His wife has been steadily improving this week. She is speaking, walking around a bit and even trying to drink liquids to test her badly burned throat, said Jim Harding, 66.
She was in critical condition for a week after the incident.
"Her memory is taking that sip, and her mouth and throat being on fire and spitting and gagging and doing everything she could to get that out of her mouth," said Jim Harding, flanked by the couple's adult son at Guymon's Salt Lake City office. "I'm concerned for her because it scares her."
Jim Harding said he is grateful to God, wife's doctors and the family's supporters. He said well wishes have come in from around the country.
"If you want your confidence restored in humanity, you walk through waters like this and see how people respond," he said.
Authorities say a worker at Dickey's Barbecue in South Jordan unintentionally put the chemical cleaning compound in a sugar bag last month. The substance ended up in Harding's glass of iced tea after an employee mixed it into a beverage dispenser.
The cleaning product was meant for degreasing deep fryers and contained the odorless chemical lye, the active ingredient in drain cleaners.