Utah woman who unknowingly drank toxic tea improving as prosecutors mull charges

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As prosecutors mull whether charges are warranted against employees at a Utah restaurant where a woman nearly died after unknowingly drinking toxic tea, the woman's husband and son are set to talk publicly Thursday about her recovery.

Jan Harding, 67, is listed in good condition at a Salt Lake City hospital as she continues to improve, said University of Utah Health Care spokeswoman Kathy Wilets.

She suffered deep burns in her upper esophagus and was in critical condition for a week after taking a single sip of the tea that contained an industrial cleaning solution on Aug. 10. She has been steadily improving this week and can now breathe on her own and talk a bit, family attorney Paxton Guyton has said.

Authorities say a worker at Dickey's Barbecue in South Jordan unintentionally put the chemical cleaning compound in a sugar bag last month. The substance ended up in Harding's glass of iced tea after an employee mixed it into a beverage dispenser.

The police agency looking into the incident has finished its investigation. Rather than making arrests and recommending charges, South Jordan police have asked prosecutors to determine if anyone should be charged because several people possibly played a role.

Jan Harding's husband, Jim Harding, and their adult son, Scott Harding, are set to speak with the media Thursday afternoon in Salt Lake City at Guyton's office. Guyton has said he'll wait on possible charges before determining what legal action to take.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said it will likely take several more days to review evidence and interviews and make a decision.

Jan and Jim Harding, who live in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy, went to the restaurant after church to meet friends for lunch. They had not even ordered yet when she took a sip of the tea.

The cleaning product in the drink was meant for degreasing deep fryers and contained the odorless chemical lye, the active ingredient in drain cleaners.

Overall, this Dickey's has maintained a better-than-average health rating since opening in 2012, said Salt Lake County Health Department spokesman Nicholas Rupp this week.

County officials issued seven violations following a January inspection, including for improper food labeling, county records show. The year before, the restaurant had six violations.

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