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SALT LAKE CITY — Mistakes in the kitchen do not rise to the level of criminal negligence.
That was essentially the message Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill had Friday as he announced that no criminal charges will be filed in connection with an incident at a Dickey's Barbecue Pit in South Jordan on Aug. 10 that left a customer in critical condition for more than a week when she drank toxic sweet tea.
Jan Harding, 67, had just ordered her meal at Dickey's, 683 W. South Jordan Parkway, and poured a glass of sweet iced tea from a drink dispenser. Immediately as she drank it, she felt a burning sensation in her mouth.
It was later discovered that someone at the restaurant put six cups of a white powder substance into the iced tea mixer and stirred it up, apparently believing it was sugar. The substance was actually a highly toxic industrial cleaning chemical used for cleaning fryers. The main chemical in the substance is sodium hydroxide.
Harding was treated in the hospital for two weeks.
On Friday, Gill announced that his office found "no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Accordingly, prosecutors have declined to file a criminal charge and have closed their involvement in the case."
Gill said investigators spent nearly 120 hours conducting interviews and reviewing store surveillance video. His office looked at whether any individual employee had malicious intentions and also whether there was any criminal conduct on the part of the business as a whole.
Were there things that could have done differently or better? Yeah, I'm sure there were. But those are not what we were looking at. We were looking at the context of a criminal charge. If there were any other errors that may have occurred, those may be subject to some other issues or litigation.
–Sim Gill, Salt Lake County DA
Ultimately, investigators decided the decisions made by Dickey's employees rose to the level of poor judgment, but not criminal charges, including criminal negligence.
"Were there things that could have done differently or better? Yeah, I'm sure there were. But those are not what we were looking at. We were looking at the context of a criminal charge," Gill said. "If there were any other errors that may have occurred, those may be subject to some other issues or litigation."
The Harding family, through their attorney Paxton Guymon, released a brief statement Friday following the decision:
"We are glad to know that the investigation has been completed, and we respect the district attorney's decision not to file any criminal charges. The South Jordan Police Department and the district attorney's office were very thorough in their investigation and their analysis, and we appreciate all that they have done. Jan continues to improve and recover. Thank you to everyone for your prayers and support."
Guymon added that the family wasn't necessarily looking for criminal charges to be filed.
"They did not want to see any criminal charges unless there was clear evidence of criminal conduct," he said. "We will file a civil lawsuit only if we are unable to settle with Dickey's at a mediation presently scheduled to occur in mid November."
Contributing: Keith McCord