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Woman who drank lye-tainted tea suffers nightmares

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 22, 2014 at 2:15 am •  Published: August 22, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A woman who was in critical condition after unknowingly sipping sweetened iced tea laced with a chemical found in drain cleaner has been steadily improving, but her husband says she's having nightmares about the moment that nearly killed her.

Jim Harding says his wife, Jan Harding, woke up frightened in the middle of the night this week in the burn unit of a Salt Lake City hospital after dreaming about going to a restaurant and ordering the drink that made her say, "I think I drank acid."

"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," Jim Harding said at a news conference Thursday. "I'm concerned for her because it scares her."

Jim Harding said he's not upset or seeking vengeance after finding out lye had been mixed into his wife's drink early last week at Dickey's Barbecue in South Jordan, a Salt Lake City suburb. 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.

Salt Lake County prosecutors are reviewing the findings of a police investigation and have not yet announced whether charges will be filed.

Authorities have said the chemical ended up in an iced-tea dispenser Aug. 10 after an employee added it, thinking it was sweetener. Lye looks like sugar, but the odorless chemical is used for degreasing deep fryers.

Jan Harding, 67, suffered deep burns to her mouth, throat and upper esophagus. She had been the first one to take a drink from the tainted batch, and no one else was harmed.

The Hardings' attorney, Paxton Guymon, said Thursday that his investigation has revealed that an employee at the restaurant burned herself a month earlier on the same substance.

Dickey's Barbecue Restaurants Inc. issued a statement last week, saying what happened to Harding was an isolated incident and nothing like it had happened in the 73 years the Dallas-based chain has operated.

Guymon said the previous incident occurred July 5 when a Dickey's employee stuck her finger in a sugar container and licked it to test if it had any of the chemical cleaner.

Her tongue started bleeding, blisters formed and she still is not back to normal, Guymon said. That employee quit the day before Jan Harding was burned, he said.

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