Utah woman critical after drinking tea laced with poison

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UTAH —

A Utah woman is in critical condition after drinking sweet tea laced with industrial cleaning chemical lye at a barbecue restaurant.

Police are investigating the incident to determine if it was intentional or an accident.

Sixty-seven-year-old Jan Harding is fighting for her life in a Utah hospital after the simple sip of iced tea

“She said, 'I think I just drank acid,'” said husband Jim Harding.

Jim Harding spoke to ABC’s GMA on Friday morning about the incident that

“The terror in her eyes and I looked down and said, ‘I love you,’ and she couldn’t talk at that point. She just mouthed, ‘I love you,’” Jim Harding said.

Police said Harding got the ice tea at this Dickey's Barbeque Pit.

A preliminary investigation shows that a heavily toxic industrial cleaner was mixed in with the iced tea in large quantities.

The cleaner, made up of sodium hydroxide or lye is known to cause severe burns to the mouth, throat and stomach if swallowed.

"You can imagine it would burn the tissues in your mouth and down into your esophagus," said Executive Director of the Utah Poison Control Center Barbara Insley Crouch.

Police are interviewing employees and checking surveillance cameras, but said they now believe it was an accident -- that the powdered cleaner may have been mixed in by an employee who mistook it for sugar.

The restaurant said in a statement, "At this time, we are fully involved in cooperating with all parties."

“We did contact the Salt Lake County Health Department after the incident took place. They did say it was safe, and they leave the restaurant open,” said Cpl. Sam Winkler of the South Jordan Police Department.

“If the people in the restaurant industry could just be made aware of the potential, danger it's worth it,” Jim Harding said.