Did Centennial Taco Bell Customer Poison Himself to Get Back at Employees?

The Taco Bell in Centennial.
The Taco Bell in Centennial. Google Maps
Move over, severed finger in Wendy's chili: There's an even weirder case of potential fast-food-related self-sabotage gripping Colorado.

On January 15, a man got into an argument around 1 p.m. with employees at the Taco Bell at 16700 East Smoky Hill Road in Centennial, according to the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office.

In the drive-thru lane, the customer had ordered soft tacos and a soda. However, when he got to the pickup window, the man learned that the soda machine was not working.

"The customer became angry and requested a burrito in place of the drink. Initially, the employees told him they could not do that. He continued to argue with staff until he was given a burrito in place of the drink. Deputies found that there was no criminal activity that had occurred," the sheriff's office notes in a release, which does not name the man.

He must really have wanted that Mountain Dew Baja Blast, a drink clearly critical for Taco Bell taco digestion.

Later that night, sheriff's deputies received a report from a local hospital that a patient had come in complaining about the food he had recently eaten having rat poison in it. It turned out to be the same customer who had gotten into a verbal altercation with the Taco Bell employees.

"The customer told deputies he had received his tacos at Taco Bell and went home. He then helped a neighbor with some yard work. At around 6 p.m., he sat down and watched a TV program from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. The customer told deputies that he ate his tacos after the program finished. He immediately felt a burning in his mouth and began to vomit. He called 911 and was transported to the hospital," the sheriff's office says.

While at the hospital, deputies saw the taco that the customer had taken a bite out of and saw a "greenish-gray substance in the taco." Lab tests came back positive for rat poison in the taco, so it's clear that the Taco Bell food itself, which isn't always easy on the stomach (especially after sitting out for six hours), hadn't poisoned the man. The customer gave the deputies permission to enter his home and retrieve the remaining food as evidence.

Authorities then shut down the Taco Bell in Centennial and called in crime-scene investigators to process the scene. Taco Bell was cooperative throughout the process, according to the sheriff's office.

But what seemed like a possible case of a disgruntled employee potentially poisoning an angry customer — which is every fast-food connoisseur's worst nightmare — turns out to have a much different potential scenario.

"Over the last several days, investigators have been going through the Taco Bell video and found no evidence that the employees were responsible for placing the rat poison in the food given to the customer," the sheriff's office states, adding that the Taco Bell reopened on January 16.

Reached by phone, a man who identified himself as the Centennial Taco Bell's manager but declined to give his name said that he could not comment on the rat poison situation.

"The safety of customers and team members is a priority. The franchisee who owns and operates this location has informed us that they are working with local authorities in their investigation," Taco Bell Corporation says in a statement.

While investigating, sheriff's deputies have tried to contact the rat-poisoned customer by phone and at his home, to no avail.

"Although there is no evidence that the employees at Taco Bell put the rat poison in the food, investigators cannot account for how it got in the food. If the customer has any information that can help with the investigation into how the poison could have gotten into the food, we request he contacts the Sheriff's Office," the office says.

Asked whether the sheriff's office suspects that the customer may have poisoned himself, Arapahoe County Sheriff Deputy John Bartmann responds, "At this point, we consider him a victim."
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.

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