Family sues restaurant over illness


A couple who say their 2-year-old daughter became seriously ill after eating at the King Garden Restaurant in Wooster has sued the buffet-style Chinese restaurant.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in Wayne County Common Pleas Court, Alex and Christine Conway of Wooster accuse the restaurant of serving food tainted with E. coli bacteria to their daughter, Lillian, last month.

The girl suffered diarrhea and abdominal pain and cramping for a week and a half, according to the suit.

No one else in the family became ill, her mother said. The only food the toddler ate that her parents didn't was gelatin.

``I don't know if I'll ever be able to go out to eat again,'' Christine Conway said. ``It's really scary. It's not a pleasant thing to have her suffer as much as she did.''

King Garden voluntarily closed for a week while Wayne County Health Department officials investigated a possible link to an E. coli outbreak, said Mike Wang, acting as an interpreter for his brother-in-law, Ge K. Wang, who helps run the restaurant but speaks little English.

The restaurant reopened Saturday after tests by health officials determined none of its workers were carriers of the bacteria, Wang said.

"The health department says everything is fine,'' Wang said.

The Wayne County Combined General Health District is continuing to investigate the recent outbreak, which involves 10 confirmed cases and another possible one, said Dr. Gregory L. Halley, Wayne County health commissioner. One 4-year-old child is still hospitalized from the E. coli infection.

Everyone who was infected with the bacteria ate at the same restaurant, which Halley declined to identify.

E. coli is spread through contaminated drinking water, animal feces or contact with undercooked meat.

Symptoms include severe abdominal cramping, diarrhea and low-grade fever. In some victims, particularly children, the illness can be fatal.

So far, Halley said, a source of the infections has not been identified.

"We may never be able to determine what the source is, but we're still continuing to find commonalities,'' he said.

A food safety inspector found several violations during an inspection Sept. 25, according to records at the Wayne County Health Department.

Among the violations found on the report:

• A worker rinsed his hands without using soap or drying with hand towels and then used his hands to stir dumpling mix containing raw sausage.

• The hot water wasn't operating at the sink designated for hand washing

• Several containers of raw meat and vegetables weren't covered when stored in the walk-in cooler.

• Six or more cleavers used to cut vegetables and meat products were stored with food debris on them behind a counter and wall. The restaurant operator put the cleavers in the dishwasher when the violation was mentioned.

• Trays of raw chicken were stored directly on containers of raw sausage, causing a risk of cross-contamination.

• Two items on the food buffet -- chicken wings and fried fish -- were below the minimum temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

• All food employees didn't wear the required hair restraints.

Wang said the restaurant is following all safety rules. ``Everything is OK,'' Wang said. ``It's good. There's no problem at all.''

But Bill Marler, a Seattle attorney who is representing the Conways, said the evidence points to King Garden as the cause of the outbreak.

Two other area families also have contacted Marler about possibly joining in the lawsuit.

``We may never know specifically what specific food had E. coli in it,'' said Marler, who has represented people who were sickened by E. coli and other food-borne illnesses nationwide. ``... It doesn't matter. The restaurant is still responsible.''

During part of her daughter's illness, Christine Conway was in the hospital giving birth to a second daughter, Alexandra.

She previously worked in the restaurant industry.

``It was not fun,'' she said. ``I've taken many classes on food safety. I've managed restaurants. It's just uncalled for.''

Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or chpowell@thebeaconjournal.com