The Mirror

Man Who Drank ‘Yellow Death’ Long Island Iced Tea Plans To Sue D.C. Bar Owner


Betsy Rothstein Gossip blogger
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At a bar called “Heaven & Hell” there are only two options: one good, one fiery. If you’re lucky, you get angels. If you’re Leon Williams, you get hell, which is what happened when he went out for a drink Sunday night with a woman he calls his “lady friend.”

When the pair walked in mid-evening, he said the place was desolate — not a patron in sight except Williams and his date.

Williams was kind of taken aback — what, no TV? No music?

He wanted to watch football.

The bar in Washington’s Adams Morgan neighborhood is a mainstay in the quirky neighborhood and has been around for three decades. It typically packs in bar hounds around 2 a.m., not 8:30 p.m. — but so be it. Williams had just gotten off work from his job as a special unarmed police officer for the government and he wanted his drink of choice: Long Island Iced Tea.

Washington’s local FOX 5 affiliate’s Anne Cutler first reported news of the bar incident. She got Williams on camera describing his hellish time out on the town.

Williams and his female friend sat at the bar. He said he had to wave down someone to get them their drinks.

She ordered a margarita. “Some fruity stuff,” Willams told The Mirror in an extensive phone interview. He ordered his drink of choice and they waited and waited.

“It took him five minutes to make the drinks,” Williams said of the bartender, who happened to be Eritrean-born Mehari Woldemariam, the owner of the bar. “I felt like he was being a bad host.”

But Williams had no idea just how bad things would get.

Here’s his account of what happened next:

“So he gives her the margarita. He goes to make mine … He stepped off for a second, and he came back with a container.”

(At this point, in his head, Williams knows something isn’t quite right, but he can’t put his finger on it — just a bad feeling. )

“Later he said he ran out of lemon juice or whatever he said, and subconsciously I’m trippin’,” he continued. “I ordered a Long Island Iced Tea that I’ve been drinking for 15 years. I know my drink. Shake it up boom boom boom. He put the container back underneath the bar. He passed it to me.”

This is when hell arrived.

“I took my sip and once I drunk it I realized it was off immediately,” Willams said. “I smelt it going down and it burned going down. After that…whoa whoa this is not right. I went to go grab the bottle. It said ‘cleaning.’ I leaned over and grabbed the bottle. So I looked at the thing. It was slight[ly] yellow. So I’m like, this is not right. This ain’t right. It was burning my throat as I was talking to him. I started reading the back. This is poison. My friend was like, ‘what the fuck is that?'”

He learned he was drinking something laced with Foam-Brite Condenser Coil Cleaner, a.k.a. “Yellow Death.” Amazon describes it as a liquid cleaner mostly intended for coils outdoors that removes lint, grease, dust and dirt build-up. The word “DANGER” appears on the front of the bottle.

According to an online safety sheet, the effects of ingesting “Yellow Death” can be quite damaging:

“Causes severe irritation of upper respiratory tract with coughing, burns, breathing difficulty, and possible coma. Causes chemical burns to the respiratory tract. May cause systemic effects. May be harmful if inhaled. Material is extremely destructive to the tissue of the mucous membranes and upper respiratory tract.”

And this: “Harmful if swallowed. May cause severe and permanent damage to the digestive tract. Causes gastrointestinal tract burns. May cause circulatory system failure. May cause perforation of the digestive tract. Causes severe digestive tract burns with abdominal pain, vomiting, and possible death. May cause systemic effects.”

Woldemariam, the bar owner, quickly apologized. He called it an “honest mistake.”

According to Williams, he said, “Oh, it must have been the drink … I’m sorry, I’m sorry. His body language was kind of off.”

When phoned Wednesday afternoon, Woldemariam answered the phone. Asked if he felt the poisoning was intentional, he would not answer.

“I’m not gonna talk about it anymore,” he told The Mirror. “I will talk to my lawyer.”

He previously denied any ill intent to Fox 5, saying, “God as my witness … it was a mistake. Why should I have somebody poisoned? The customer comes to pay me and I’ve been in this business for the longest time in Adams Morgan.”

When asked for the name of his lawyer, he said, “I’m not going to tell you. I need to ask him first.”

Some 48 hours after the incident, Williams is still pissed. “That’s still not a mistake if you ran out of the lemon juice,” he told me. “I thank the Lord I wasn’t drunk, that I was alert. I had only had one shot. If I had been drunk, that ‘honest mistake’ could have cost me my life.”

Williams said he plans to sue. He has retained the legal services of Cohen & Cohen in Washington, D.C. The firm has handled cases similar to this in the past. In at least one case in the D.C. area, the parties settled out of court.

“I definitely will be taking legal action,” he said.

When asked for comment, attorney Adam Leighton emailed The Mirror, “The immediate issue is to try to make sure that this does not happen to someone else and that appropriate systems are put in place to protect customers such as Mr. Williams.”

Williams went to two different hospitals — Howard University and Washington Hospital Center. “I’m ok right now,” he said. “They gave me some medicine” — Carafate — which he must take three times a day. “I got an X-ray done, blood work, and urinalysis.”

(Incidentally, Williams shared a picture of the prescription with The Mirror.) The medicine was first used in Japan in 1968 to treat ulcers, according to online reports. It was initially developed in 1932. The drug can also be used to prevent ulcers. Side effects can include constipation, dry mouth, nausea, upset stomach and gas.

Williams said doctors told him the effects of drinking “Yellow Death” are going to last two weeks. “I’m basically on a diet for two weeks,” he said. “I missed two days of work.”

A call into the Poison Control Center indicates that “Yellow Death” can, in fact, be quite dangerous. “As a product it looks like it is corrosive,” a female rep on the phone told The Mirror. “Generally it can cause chemical burns. It is corrosive — sodium hydroxide is one of the components in that.”

The Poison Control rep said intent is vital: “If they believe they were poisoned we always recommend getting law enforcement involved.”

Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Williams said he has never experienced anything remotely like this. “I feel like it was on purpose,” he said. “I feel like if he was left alone with a female … he’s the type of guy that would put a roofie in her drink…some Bill Cosby stuff.”

Williams was still reeling at the what-ifs of the incident. “This could have cost me my life, man,” he said. “I read that it could blind you. I don’t know how it’ll affect me five years down the line.”

He said the amount he drank constituted a shot of liquor.

“Right now I burped,” he told me during our conversation. “It hurt when I burped.”

Williams said doctors gave him advice. “Dude told me to drink milk,” he recalled. “They did all the tests. They thought I was suicidal at first because I told them I was poisoned.”

He said the aroma was strong like ammonia. “I definitely tasted the cleaner and it burnt my throat going down,” he said.

Williams said he will never return to Heaven & Hell, which in 2012 earned a place on a 25 most douchiest bars in Washington list. At this point, no doubt he’d take douchey over dangerous.

According to a Washington Post profile of the bar in 1991, the owner has often greeted customers to his watering hole like this: “Welcome to Heaven. If you don’t like it, go to Hell.”

Somehow Williams isn’t laughing.

When asked if he’ll ever return, he said, “No, I’m not. Definitely not. And I hope other people don’t either. You could kill people like that. I heard that stuff isn’t supposed to be in the building.”

Williams is still incensed that the bar was barren when this went down.

“You wasn’t under pressure…how do you mistake that?” he asked.

So far, no charges have been pressed and no lawsuits have been filed.