Surveillance video from tainted tea incident at Dickey’s Barbecue released

Posted at 9:29 PM, Oct 02, 2014

SOUTH JORDAN, Utah -- Dickey’s Barbeque in South Jordan had just opened for lunch on August 10 when surveillance video caught Jan Harding buying the first cup of sweet tea sold that day, a purchase she instantly regretted.

“When you watch the footage, you can see that as soon as she takes a sip, immediately, she knew something was wrong,” said Paxton Guymon, the Harding family’s attorney.

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.

For the first time since the incident, Harding and her husband sat down on Wednesday to relive it through footage taken from the restaurant.

“They were very silent while they watched it,” Guymon said. “I think it was a tough memory to relive through video.”

The video showed 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.

“You can almost see the panic on her face, too, like she doesn’t know what’s going on,” Guymon said.

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 said.

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,” explained Guymon. “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.”

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.

Next month, Guymon will meet with the company for mediation to discuss monetary compensation for the family’s medical expenses, as well the Harding’s demand for change. 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.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to do something to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Guymon said. “And that’s the Hardings' real goal. They want good to come from this. And if it means the company changes its way of doing business, they want to see that happen.”

FOX 13 News has reached out to attorneys with Dickey's Barbecue for comment but has not yet received a response.

Click here to follow FOX 13 News' ongoing coverage of the incident.