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Condition worse than expected for Utah woman who drank tea with lye in it

Utah woman who drank lye-laced tea remains in critical condition
Attorney: Employee mistook lye for sugar, mixed into tea

The injuries suffered by a Utah woman who drank iced tea laced with a chemical used to clean frying equipment are worse than initially thought, according to a statement issued by her attorney on Friday.

Jan Harding, 67, suffered severe burns to her mouth and throat after drinking iced tea that was accidentally mixed with a "highly toxic industrial cleaning chemical" that contained sodium hydroxide, commonly known as lye, police have said.

Harding underwent an endoscopy on Thursday, which revealed the woman had also suffered severe burns to her esophagus, according to a statement issued by her attorney, Paxton Guymon.

"The news was very disappointing and disheartening for the family. The burns were deeper and more extensive than we had hoped," Guymon's statement read. "She remains in critical condition, and there are still a lot of things that could go wrong at this point."

Harding was dining at Dickey's Barbecue Pit in South Jordan around noon on Sunday when she poured tea from a dispenser. As soon as she sipped the drink she spit it out because it burned her mouth, and her husband rushed her to an area hospital. The restaurant released a statement about the incident.

Her injuries were so severe that she had to be airlifted to the University of Utah Hospital's burn unit, where she has remained in critical condition all week, police said.

Guymon has contended an employee mistook the cleaning substance for sugar, and mixed it into the tea. No one else was injured.

South Jordan Police Cpl. Sam Winkler told the Los Angeles Times that police hope to wrap up a criminal investigation by Monday. While investigators have determined the substance was accidentally mixed into the drink, the person responsible could still face battery charges.

If Harding, who has three children and six grandchildren, were to die of her injuries, that person could also be charged with criminally negligent homicide, Winkler said.

Police have determined who was responsible for poisoning the tea, but Winkler declined to release that information.

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for breaking news

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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