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Sheriff says ‘no evidence’ Taco Bell employees put rat poison in taco

A Las Vegas Taco Bell in 2020. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The sheriff’s office in Arapahoe County, Colo., is continuing to investigate an incident in which a Taco Bell customer ate a taco containing rat poison — but they have found no evidence so far that employees were responsible for tampering with his food.

Investigators on Friday said that after searching video and other evidence from a Taco Bell in Aurora they cannot account for how the rat poison got into the taco of a man who had gotten into a verbal argument with fast-food workers while ordering food and later became violently ill and was hospitalized on Sunday. Deputy John Bartmann of the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office said in an interview Thursday that the man told hospital personnel that he had ingested rat poison in a taco he was served, and a deputy confirmed that the item contained “a greenish-gray substance.”

The sheriff’s office said in a Friday news release that lab tests confirmed that the substance was, in fact, rat poison. The statement also said they had since been unable to communicate with the man, who had been released from the hospital and whose name they had not released.

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Lary Swift, the manager of the Taco Bell location at 16776 E. Smoky Hill Rd., had denied to CBS Colorado that the restaurant was the source of the poison. “We don’t carry poison in the restaurant,” she told the station. “We didn’t do anything like that. It didn’t even add up. It’s ridiculous.”

The incident began when deputies were called to the Taco Bell on Sunday afternoon after getting multiple calls — including at least one from another customer — about a disturbance at the drive-through. CBS Colorado reported that Swift described the customer as a regular who had been argumentative on other visits. He was angered when told that the restaurant’s drink machine wasn’t working and asked for something free to go along with his food order, the sheriff’s office said and the manager told the news station. He was given a free burrito, Bartmann said.

Later that evening, the man began to eat his food at home and became “violently ill” after biting into a soft taco, he said. He called 911 and told paramedics and other medical workers that he had eaten rat poison.

The location was shut down after the incident but reopened after complying with health officials’ directions, Bartmann said.

“The safety of customers and team members is a priority,” an email from a Taco Bell representative read. “The franchisee who owns and operates this location has informed us that they are working with local authorities in their investigation.”

In addition to the examination of video, Bartmann said, the investigation has included interviews with Taco Bell workers who were there at the time of the alleged incident. They also have since attempted to contact the man by phone and by visiting his home, per the news release. “If the customer had any information that can help with the investigation into how the poison could have gotten into the food, we request that he contacts the Sheriff’s Office,” the release stated.