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Salt Lake County prosecutors will not pursue charges against employees or managers at a South Jordan restaurant where a female diner suffered severe throat burns from poisoned tea early last month.
In a decision announced Friday, District Attorney Sim Gill said his office had "determined there is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing" to show that the tainting of the sweet tea mix with industrial cleaner at the Dickey's BBQ, 689 W. South Jordan Parkway, was anything but an accidental act and a case of poor judgment.
"Accordingly, prosecutors have declined to file a criminal charge and have closed their involvement in the case," Gill concluded in his written statement.
He later said that his staff had reviewed 700 hours' worth of restaurant security video and conducted numerous interviews with past and present employees and management before reaching the decision not to prosecute.
"There were certainly errors or mishaps that occurred," Gill said, "but none of that rose to the level of what we were charged to do: Look for criminal charges."
Jan Harding, 67, was critically injured Aug. 10, when she swallowed the tea. The chemical burned the inside of her throat and esophagus. Doctors at University Hospital had to insert a breathing tube, and it was six days before she could speak again.
She left the hospital Aug. 23, on her 46th wedding anniversary, but faces further treatment including possible reparative surgery.
Employees at Dickey's quickly discovered that an industrial degreasing solution apparently mistaken for sugar had been mixed into the tea. The solution was 67 percent sodium hydroxide, which is the active ingredient in drain cleaner, commonly known as lye.
Jan Harding and her husband, Jim, issued a statement that implied acceptance of the decision to not prosecute the restaurant.
"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 statement read. "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."
It concluded by noting that "Jan continues to improve and recover. Thank you to everyone for your prayers and support."
The Hardings' attorney, Paxton Guymon, said his clients were keeping open the possibility of suing the restaurant for medical expenses and damages.
"We will file a civil suit," Guymon said, "if the parties are unable to reach a settlement at the mediation currently scheduled for mid-November."
Guymon also said recently he was investigating claims that Dickey's employees had discovered the cleaner was mixed into the sweet tea weeks before the Hardings' visit, but had not thrown it out.
Guymon had said there was a report that a manager, during the earlier incident, had suffered blisters on her tongue that required medical treatment after dipping her finger in the mixture and tasting it.
"I agree that there was no intent to injure, but the level of recklessness on a number of fronts was so egregious that it was a train wreck waiting to happen," Guymon said. "Somebody was going to get hurt. ... There was very poor management, poor training. There were a lot of things that could have been [done] differently to prevent this from happening."
Dallas-based Dickey's Barbecue Restaurants Inc. did not immediately comment. The company earlier said the incident was isolated and unprecedented in the chain's 73-year history.
At an Aug. 29 news conference, Jan Harding said she wants something positive to come of her near-fatal ordeal.
"I'm hoping to see and hear some good come of this," she said, " ... see [restaurants] become proactive to keep this from happening to anyone else."
Jim Harding, interim pastor at the Crossroads Church in Sandy, said the episode has strengthened his faith.
"A genuine faith makes a difference, and our God is real," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story