Woman Fights for Life After Sipping Tea Laced With Lye

The restaurant says a worker mistook the cleaning solution for sugar

By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 15, 2014 7:21 AM CDT

(Newser) – An employee at Dickey's Barbecue Pit in South Jordan, Utah, appears to have mistaken lye, an odorless chemical found in drain cleaners, for sugar, and made a batch of "sweet" tea with it. Jan Harding, a 67-year-old grandmother out to lunch with her husband and friends after church Sunday, took one sip and immediately spit it out, saying, "I think I just drank acid," reports the AP. Her mouth immediately began to burn, and when her husband rushed her to a local hospital, officials there were so worried they airlifted her to the University of Utah's burn unit, reports the Los Angeles Times. Harding has been in critical condition since. She has been intubated, has limited movement of her head and neck, and isn't yet able to speak.

"It's disturbing that this kind of toxic, poisonous material would be in the food-prep area and somehow find its way into the iced tea vat," her attorney says. "I don't know how something like that can happen." Harding appears to be the first and only victim, and a local police official says it's fortunate the restaurant wasn't busy: "If someone had swallowed it, it could have been potentially fatal," he says. Adds a chemistry expert, "It would start dissolving your insides." The chemical, found in products like Drano and also used to de-grease deep fryers, is also called sodium hydroxide and was added to the tea in powder form. Doctors are still trying to determine if it lacerated Harding's esophagus or stomach. The restaurant is participating in the investigation and remains open for business. (Check out what one doctor laced her lover's coffee with.)

Attorney Paxton Guymon holds a photograph of Jim and Jan Harding during a news conference in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014.
Attorney Paxton Guymon holds a photograph of Jim and Jan Harding during a news conference in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014.   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
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