A 34-year-old Columbia woman has filed suit against Circle K convenience stores and one of its clerks, alleging the clerk doused her with a five-gallon bucket of water mixed with a caustic cleaning solution in an incident after she stopped at the store with a flat tire in May.
The cleaning solution caused second-degree burns to 10 percent of Annyona Smith’s body, and she has had to undergo skin graft procedures and “painful management of the burns on her head, shoulders, chest, breasts, her arm and back,” said her lawsuit, filed in state court in Richland County.
“Additional surgical procedures and medical treatment will be needed in the future and Ms. Smith will always be disfigured,” her lawsuit said.
A separate criminal investigation is under way in the May 2 incident at the store on Broad River Road.
Throwing a bucket of hot water and cleaning solution so toxic onto a person that it causes severe burns is “so extreme and outrageous as to exceed all possible bounds of decency and must be regarded as outrageous and utterly intolerable in civilized society,” the lawsuit said.
A spokesman for Circle K stores, which is owned by a Canadian-headquartered company, Couche-Tard, said Friday, “Since this is an ongoing litigation we will not comment at this point.”
Columbia attorney Todd Ellis, lawyer for Annyona Smith, said Smith was so badly burned that doctors at Palmetto Health Richland hospital emergency room told her she needed to go to the Augusta Burn Center for treatment. The Augusta center is one of largest and most advanced burn treatment centers in the United States.
Smith’s bills already top $100,000, and she is undergoing successive treatments for her injuries, according to Ellis and his co-counsel, Jerry Reardon.
According to Smith’s lawsuit, she was having tire trouble in the early morning hours of May 2 while driving home and she pulled into the Circle K at 3004 Broad River Rd.
At the store, she pulled up to the air pump so she could inflate the tire, the lawsuit said. Smith tried to get into the Circle K to get some paper towels, but the door was locked.
Smith asked two motorists passing by the store for help and, as she did so, a hard rain began to fall. Smith pulled her car out of the rain to a covered area near the door so one passer-by would not have to change the tire in the rain.
The clerk, Monique Johnson-Anderson, 23, then came out of the store and told Smith she could not park there to change the tire. The newspaper’s efforts to reach Johnson-Anderson were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, “presumably because of the dispute, the first customer who was volunteering to help left and did not assist Mrs. Smith,” the lawsuit said.
Then, while a second customer got a carjack out of his truck and was trying to help Smith, Johnson-Anderson “moved a bucket containing a cleaning solution and hot water over to the side of the store near the door where Ms. Smith and the customer were outside,” the lawsuit said.
With the bucket of cleaning fluid solution at hand, “Anderson unlocks the door and yells to Ms. Smith again that she cannot change the tire there and says nasty things to Ms. Smith in an attempt to set her off,” the lawsuit said.
Then, Johnson-Anderson steps back inside and “goes straight to the bucket of cleaning solution and picks it up while (Smith) is walking” to the store’s front door, the lawsuit said.
Then, “Anderson turns around with the bucket as (Smith) walks inside and throws the substance in the bucket on (Smith),” the lawsuit said. Smith ran from the store screaming.
A Richland County deputy who responded to the scene found Smith “experiencing physical and emotional distress” and suffering from “burns to her forehead and upper body,” according to the deputy’s incident report.
Johnson-Anderson told the deputy she had told Smith she couldn’t change her tire in front of the store and that Smith “became angry and entered the store in a threatening manner and poked her in the forehead with her finger.”
Johnson-Anderson then told the deputy that, “in response, she threw a five gallon bucket of hot water and cleaning solution onto the subject,” according to the deputy’s report.
The report said the deputy also viewed a store surveillance tape that showed Smith becoming angry, entering the store and “appearing to poke at (the clerk’s) face.”
Although the deputy’s report portrayed Smith as the aggressor, a review of a compilation of store surveillance tapes provided by Ellis indicated that, the lawyer said, the clerk deliberately provoked Smith to come into the store, where the clerk had stashed a bucket of hot cleaning solution water and then drenched her with it.
Ellis said he has met with prosecutors from the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s office and the Richland County sheriff’s department to ask them about filing criminal charges.
“The matter is under investigation,” Solicitor Dan Johnson said Friday. Sheriff Leon Lott confirmed his deputies are “consulting with the solicitor’s office on any possible charges.”