Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Investigation Continues into Chemical Contamination in Juice that Injured Two Children

In a very bizarre case, two children ingested a toxic chemical while at a restaurant.   According to the report, a 10 year old boy threw up blood and his half sister, aged 4, vomited after drinking apple juice out of foam cups at a Lancaster eating establishment.  

So far, methanol was one of the identified chemicals.  So this is not your typical food operation cleaning chemical.  Also, since only two children at the same table became ill, the contamination event occurred from point of dispensing to point of consumption.  So thus the criminal investigation.

Lancaster online
East Lampeter police investigate if incident of children drinking caustic substance at restaurant was criminal or accidental

LINDSEY BLEST | Staff Writer

East Lampeter police are trying to determine if an incident that resulted in children being hospitalized after drinking a caustic substance at a township restaurant was criminal or accidental.

Related: Lancaster County, state, federal agencies investigate incident

Richie Zaragoza, 10, threw up blood and Ginaya Mercado, 4, vomited after drinking apple juice out of foam cups at Star Buffet & Grill, 2232 Lincoln Highway, Friday, Richie's mother, Virginia Davis, told LancasterOnline Saturday.

They were airlifted to Hershey Medical Center where they were listed in fair condition Monday afternoon, according to a hospital spokesperson.

The liquid is still being tested, East Lampeter police Lt. Robin Weaver said Monday.

"We need to determine whether it was accidental or criminal in nature and if there is or is not a crime," Weaver said. "We need to determine the cause so it doesn't happen again."

Related: 'It burns, it burns': Children rushed to hospital after drinking caustic substance

A test from the Hershey Medical Center revealed that methanol was at least one of the substances present in the juice, Richie's father, Richard Zaragoza Sr., told LancasterOnline Sunday.

Methanol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a “toxic alcohol that is used industrially as a solvent, pesticide, and alternative fuel source.”

Weaver declined to say the brand of the juice, which restaurant manager Steve Weng said was purchased from a local grocery store.

"We don't even know if it was juice," Weaver said. "Once we're aware of what the substance was, we will notify the appropriate personnel."

Weaver said police are interviewing the restaurant's staff, who have been cooperative.

Richie and Ginaya were at the restaurant with Davis, her brother-in-law Luis Mercado and Davis' two other children: Miguel Mercado, 6, and 7-month-old Anthony Mercado.

Police said a 6-year-old and an adult male were treated at Lancaster General Hospital and released.

"That was the only group that experienced injuries or discomfort," Weaver said Monday, noting that the incident happened after 7 p.m., and the restaurant had been open all day.

RELATED: Lancaster County, state, federal agencies investigate incident of children drinking caustic substance at restaurant

Restaurant manager Steve Weng said when diners arrive, the waiter or waitress serves them drinks. The beverage station is part of the buffet, so diners can refill their own drinks.

"Maybe it's in the cup, maybe it's the juice. Maybe someone walked to the soda area, we don't know," Weng, 28, said Monday.

Weng said business has been affected by the incident.

"It's slow," Weng said. "There aren't many people."

Weng said his father Zhen Rong Weng bought the restaurant three years ago.

He said he and his father went to Hershey Medical Center Sunday night to try to visit Richie and Ginaya, but they got there after visiting hours and weren't able to see them.

"We are going to try to go again tonight," he said Monday.

East Lampeter police said Monday that the Lancaster County district attorney’s office, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are joining the investigation.

Weaver said the agencies were informed as a matter of protocol and to "ensure their assistance and expertise in the investigation."

"(The) FDA cannot confirm or deny any investigation at this time," Peter Cassell, U.S. Food and Drug Administration press officer, told LancasterOnline Monday.

The state Department of Agriculture did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Efforts to reach Zaragoza and Davis by phone Monday were not successful.

Lancaster Online
'It burns, it burns': Children rushed to hospital after drinking caustic substance

Mar 4, 2017 Updated Mar 4, 2017

Friday was Richie Zaragoza’s 10th birthday, and he wanted to go to the Star Buffet & Grill.

But when he drank the apple juice he’d been served, “he just started screaming, ‘It burns, it burns,’” his mother, Virginia Davis, told LNP.

His 4-year-old half-sister, Ginaya Mendoza, had drunk some, too.

On Saturday afternoon, both children were reportedly in intensive care at Hershey Medical Center with severe burns of the mouth and throat.

Somehow, a caustic substance had gotten in the cups.

The liquid is reportedly being tested; no further information was available Saturday afternoon.

The children were reportedly transported by helicopter to Hershey from Lancaster General Hospital, where they had been taken by ambulance.
Davis is in shock: “How do you take your kids out and expect this to happen?” she said.
Her son already is struggling with multiple medical conditions, including cystic fibrosis and diabetes.

“He’s been through a lot,” said his father, Richard Zaragoza Sr., who has primary custody and takes care of Richie at his city home.

Richie had been gone less than an hour when his mother called with the terrible news, Zaragoza said.

The restaurant is at 2232 Lincoln Highway East near the Tanger Outlets. It serves all-you-can-eat meals featuring Chinese food and sushi as well as Italian and American dishes.

Manager Steve Weng said nothing like this has happened at the Star Buffet in the year he’s been there.

He said the apple juice was bought at a local supermarket and he has no idea how it became contaminated.

Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital officials said Richie was in serious condition Saturday night and Ginaya wasn't listed as a patient.

No test results regarding the caustic substance have yet been released, hospital officials said. East Lampeter Township police reported a test was still pending as of Saturday.

Davis, a city resident who turns 33 later this month, said she and her brother-in-law, Luis Mercado, had all four of her children with her on Friday: Richie, Ginaya, 6-year-old Miguel Mercado and 7-month-old Anthony Mercado.

The drinks came while Luis and the three older children were getting food. When they came back and started eating, Ginaya was the first to take a sip.
“She starting spitting saliva out” and soon threw up, saying her stomach hurt, Davis said. But Davis figured her daughter had just gotten sick.

But after Richie started screaming and throwing up blood, Luis Mercado put a cup to his mouth and realized it tasted like acid. He started spitting up blood, too, Davis said.

Medical personnel examined him, but he did not need to be taken to a hospital.

Miguel’s apple juice was fine, Davis said.

Zaragoza, also a city resident, said the children had gotten individual juice containers at the restaurant before. This time, the juice came in foam cups.

Davis said doctors told her the children would remain under sedation for several days.

East Lampeter Township police confirmed they responded to the incident Friday evening, but did not immediately provide further details.

Because of Richie’s illnesses, he has a gastronomy tube or “G tube” in his stomach and a port in his arm for IV medications, Zaragoza said. He gets oxygen nightly and nutrition supplements through the G tube.

Zaragoza’s Facebook post about the incident was shared more than 1,600 times, sparking hundreds of comments expressing sympathy for the family and outrage over what they suffered.

Both parents are upset, hoping and praying for the children’s swift and full recovery.

“We were supposed to be celebrating his birthday,” Davis said.

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