SAN FRANCISCO – The finger that a woman claimed she found in a bowl of Wendy's (search) chili was severed in the tailgate of a truck during a work accident, an employee of an asphalt company said.
Pat Hogue, an estimator with a Las Vegas asphalt maintenance company, told the San Francisco Chronicle for a story in Sunday's editions that a man he was working with lost the tip of his finger on a job five months ago.
Both men were working with James Plascencia, the husband of Anna Ayala (search) — the Las Vegas woman who claimed she found the finger in a bowl of chili at a Wendy's restaurant in San Jose, Hogue told the paper.
Authorities believe the injured man gave the finger to Plascencia. Ayala is accused of trying to shake down the fast-food giant with a bogus tainted-food claim.
"I saw it on the news. I didn't know the lady at first was married to that James guy until after he was arrested," Hogue said in a telephone interview from his home in North Las Vegas.
Hogue and investigators have refused to identify the man with the severed finger, but police have said he's cooperating with authorities.
Ayala, 39, is in jail on suspicion of attempted grand theft. She claimed she bit into the finger on March 22 and filed a claim against the restaurant chain shortly afterward. The publicity resulted in a major loss of business for Wendy's.
Ayala later withdrew her claim as she came under scrutiny and investigators found at least 13 cases in which she has filed claims in her name or her children's.
Plascencia, 43, is being held in a Las Vegas jail on unrelated charges. He is awaiting extradition to California.
San Jose Police Chief Rob Davis said a tipster led investigators to the Nevada man with the missing finger. Investigators have refused to say how the finger was preserved or transported from Las Vegas to San Jose.
Police said more arrests were possible.