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Woman Critical After Drinking Chemical-Laced Tea

SALT LAKE CITY — A woman 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, the woman's attorney said Thursday. Jan Harding, 67, is in critical condition at a Salt Lake City hospital's burn unit, unable to talk and fighting for her life, lawyer Paxton Guymon said.

The restaurant manager and investigators have told the woman's family that the worker accidentally put large quantities of a product containing lye into the iced-tea dispenser at Dickey's Barbecue Pit in South Jordan, he said. The chemical is common at restaurants and used to degrease deep fryers. Harding and her husband had just arrived at the restaurant after church Sunday when she took a sip of the tea and exclaimed to her husband: "I think I just drank acid."

Jim Harding rushed his wife to a nearby hospital. She was then flown to the University of Utah hospital, where she remained Thursday, Guymon said. Harding's husband and their three adult children were by her side, praying for her recovery. South Jordan Police are still investigating how the chemical ended up in the jug of sweet tea, but they think it was accidental, South Jordan Police Cpl. Sam Winkler said.

Image: Attorney Paxton Guymon holds a photograph of Jim and Jan Harding
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. ( Rick Bowmer / AP
— The Associated Press