Chili Finger Incident

 Correction — October 10, 2019 The day of the alleged incident, March 22, 2005, was a Tuesday, not a Thursday. 

Friday, May 6, 2005

On Thursday the 22nd of March, 2005, Anna Ayala, a woman from Las Vegas, claimed to have found a human finger in her bowl of chili at a Wendy’s restaurant located at 1405 Monterey Highway, just south of downtown San Jose, California, owned by Fresno-based Jern Management.. The finger, which probably belonged to a woman as it had a long and manicured fingernail, did not belong to any of the restaurant employees. The food supplies were seized by officials to be traced back to its manufacturers, while the restaurant was permitted to open again later with chili prepared from fresh ingredients.

Contents

  • 1 Aftermath
  • 2 Investigation centers on Ayala
  • 3 Twists and turns
  • 4 Ayala arrested
  • 5 Ayala transferred to San Jose
  • 6 Finger’s owner identified
  • 7 Recently Edited headlines

Wikinews reporter David Vasquez drove his car up to the drive-thru menu and found that chili was still on the menu, at a price of US$1.19 for a small serving. He also witnessed workers unloading supplies from a semi-trailer truck in the restaurant’s parking lot, and carting them into the back door of the establishment.

Initially, county health officials said Ayala was fine and the finger had been cooked, which would have killed any bacteriae in the finger. However, on March 27, officials admitted they were not so sure anymore. Tests were done on the finger to determine this. Dr. Martin Fenstersheib, Santa Clara County’s health officer, said that even if the finger was still raw when Ayala bit into it, the risk was low that she would have become infected with anything. However, he advised that Ayala should undergo a series of precautionary follow-up tests.

Sales at Wendy’s went down because of the incident. Wendy’s International, Inc. (WEN) closed at US$39.43 on Thursday the 22nd, and as the stock exchange was closed for the Good Friday holiday, traders did not weigh in the stock until the next Monday.

By Tuesday the 5th of April, officials had still not succeeded in tracking down the owner of the finger. The fingerprint on the detached digit has been run through an FBI database as well as the local criminal database in Santa Clara County, but no matches were found. According to Rich Reneau, who was leading the investigation at the time, the fingerprint was marginal, and the likelihood of finding a match was slim.

Wendy’s stock did not go down significantly and was trading at US$39.37 that morning.

The next day, on Wednesday the 6th, Las Vegas police searched the home of Anna Ayala. About a dozen officers conducted the search at Ayala’s home at Maryland Parkway and Serene Street at about 4 p.m. local time (23:00 UTC), according to witnesses at the scene. Ayala and other residents were handcuffed and brought out of the house. Ayala said that her teenage daughter, Genesis Reyes, had torn shoulder ligaments as a result of the search. The Las Vegas Review-Journal ran a photo of Reyes wearing a sling in their Friday edition. In San Jose, police spokeswoman Gina Tepoorten confirmed to reporters that investigators had served the warrant in cooperation with Las Vegas police on Wednesday, but she refused to reveal specific details about the warrant. By that time, Wendy’s was offering a US$50,000 reward for information leading to the source of the finger.

Research by the Associated Press uncovered Ayala’s history of lawsuits. Ayala successfully won her suit for medical expenses against the national El Pollo Loco chicken-chain, a previous employer, after her daughter Genesis contracted salmonella poisoning, allegedly from eating at the restaurant. However, Ayala lost another suit against General Motors in 2000 claiming that a wheel fell off her car. She also started a sexual harassment suit against her former boss in 1998. A total of 13 lawsuits in California and Nevada had been filed. Ayala replied the focus should be on Wendy’s, and not her record of law suits. Nick Muyo, a spokesman for the San Jose Police department, said not to expect new information in the case for at least a week.

On Wednesday the 13th there was a potential new lead in the investigation. A spotted leopard had torn off part of a finger from an owner of exotic animals, Sandy Allman, in Pahrump, Nevada. The portion of Allman’s torn off finger was approximately the same size – 1 1/2-inches long. Pahrump is approximately 45 miles away from Las Vegas. Carol Asvestas, who owns an exotic animal sanctuary, told the San Jose Mercury News she witnessed the leopard tear off the finger. She reported the incident to a hotline run by Wendy’s offering the US$50,000 reward. Cindy Carroccio told the San Jose Mercury News that the finger was not reattached, and that the clinic “gave it back to her (Allman) in a little bag of ice.” On the same day the lead was announced, Ayala decided to drop her lawsuit against Wendy’s, due to emotional stress.

However, when Allman’s prints were sent to San Jose police, they didn’t match. Two days later, on Friday the 15th, Wendy’s doubled the reward to US$100,000. The company revealed that employees had passed polygraph tests. Wendy’s continues to claim that there is no evidence that the finger ever entered their supply chain, pointing to a lack of any accidents among the workers at their suppliers. Wendy’s tip line had received reports from across the United States, from “folks who either have lost a finger, or know somebody who lost a finger,” San Jose police Sgt. Nick Muyo told the Associated Press.

On Thursday the 21st of April, Anna Ayala was arrested at or near her home in Las Vegas on Thursday evening, in connection with the case, shortly after Wendy’s finished its own internal investigation. According to court documents, she has been charged with one count of attempted grand larceny related to the chili case, and one count of grand larceny in an unrelated real estate deal, and is being held without bail in Clark County, Nevada, pending extradition. A press conference by the San Jose Police and Wendy’s was held on Friday, April 22, at 13:00 PDT. The charge related to the case states the finger could not have been prepared at Wendy’s, where the chili is heated to 170 degrees for 3 hours. There is also an inconsistency in Ayala’s account of finding the finger and claiming it caused her to vomit compared with police saying there was no vomit at the scene. The incident has caused Wendy’s 2.5 million dollars worth of damages, which Ayala could be criminally responsible for. Until recently, the San Jose police had not accused Ayala of planting the finger herself.

The unrelated charge stems from an incident, also in San Jose, when Ayala allegedly received an $11,000 down payment on a mobile home she did not own.

Ayala was incarcerated at the Clark County Detention Center, awaiting a fugitive review hearing on Tuesday, April 26, 2005, at 7:30 a.m. local time. She was processed and given inmate ID 01964047. Her case number was 05F07229X. Ayala waived extradition at the hearing, and her attorney said they were ready to come to San Jose to defend against the charges.

On Friday, May 6, 2005, Ayala was transported to San Jose, California. Ayala was booked into the main Santa Clara County jail, and is awaiting arraignment. Ayala will likely be arraigned on Monday or Tuesday at the Santa Clara County Superior Court, according to Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney David Boyd.

On September 9, 2005, Ayala plead guilty to conspiring to file a false claim and attempted grand theft, and will be sentenced on November 2, 2005. She faces up to ten years in prison, and her husband faces up to 13 years behind bars.

Until the middle of May, the owner of the finger still had not been found.

But on May 13, 2005, police announced that they had identified the finger tip as belonging to an associate of Ayala’s husband [1]. The associate had lost his finger tip in an industrial accident at an asphalt company[2] in December, 2004. Police had received the information from an undisclosed caller to Wendy’s hot-line.

Photos related to this incident:

Denny’s Super Bowl free ‘Grand Slam Breakfast’ brings 2 million diners

Friday, February 6, 2009

Denny’s 1,600 chain restaurants across North America, Puerto Rico and Canada, were slammed for eight hours Tuesday with hungry patrons standing on sidewalks for nearly two hours to take advantage of the $5.99 “Grand Slam Breakfast” giveaway.

Denny’s, a dining chain with annual revenue of about $900 million, has advertised in a TV commercial Sunday during the Super Bowl XLIII that it would give away its signature breakfast from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. local time Tuesday, at all its restaurants in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico, while supplies lasted.

Denny’s Diner has promoted the iconic dish giveaway heavily, with a bold 30-second appeal ad that aired during the third quarter of the Super Bowl 43 on Sunday, plus another 15-second ad during the post-game show, offering a free breakfast to some 90 million viewers. In addition, it has placed a full-page ad in USA Today‘s Monday edition. The promotion was further announced on The Today Show and notices were also sent out to the chain’s “Denny’s Breakfast Club” members.

The NBC ad, which was bought to unveil a new promotion for customers squeezed by the recession, may have cost as much as $3 million, said Nelson Marchioli, CEO of Denny’s Corp. Super Bowl XLIII’s 30-second commercial time slot costs $2.4 million–$3 million for the airtime alone, excluding production and talent costs.

The game was televised live by the US NBC Sunday Night Football and Canada’s CTV Television Network. BayTSP has reported that, “as of 10 a.m. Wednesday, commercials that initially aired during NBC’s Super Bowl XLIII broadcast subsequently had been watched online more than 28 million times.”

“The promotion has a total cost of $5 million U.S., which includes $3 million for the commercial on NBC,” said a Denny’s spokesman, noting also that the company received about $50 million in news coverage, most of which was positive. According to a Denny’s representative, two million people walked through the restaurant chains’ doors Tuesday, and each Denny’s restaurant served an average of 130 Grand Slams per hour.

With the “Denny’s Feeds America” promotion, the company has reported 14 million hits on its Web site between Sunday night and Monday morning. Denny’s shares rose 6 cents, or 3.1 percent, to $1.98 in afternoon trading. The stock has traded in a range of $1.18 to $4.10 over the past 52 weeks.

“Denny’s free Grand Slam” has ranked in the top 10 Google searches early Tuesday and fell to No. 18 by the end of the promotion, while “denny s locations” was #9 on Google Trends, which tracks fast-rising searches. It has also held spots No. 1 (Denny’s) and 7 (Grand Slam) on Twitter‘s trending topics. It has generated much chat on Twitter, garnering 1,700 tweets on Tuesday, compared with its average of 59. Doritos, winner of the USA TODAY survey for best Super Bowl spot ad, had 933 mentions after reaching a peak of almost 3,300.

The idea of the TV ad was to get people to come in and re-evaluate Denny’s Diner. “A lot of people have forgotten what Denny’s is, or they think they know, while we’ve come out with a whole lot of new products. We felt like we needed to jump start the brand,” Denny’s Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer Mark Chmiel said.

“We’re celebrating the Grand Slam this year,” Chmiel said. According to the company’s financial data, on January 15 Denny’s reported systemwide comparable-store sales for the fourth quarter were down 6.1 percent, compared to a 0.2 percent decline from the same period in 2007.

According to Robert Gonzalez, public relations company Hill & Knowlton spokesman, Denny’s has expected at least 2 million people to eat a free Grand Slam by the end of the promotion. “Every restaurant is packed with people and lines,” Gonzalez said. “Everything today is about fast. People are on the go, and they’re eating fast food. It’s cutting into sit-down dining,” he added.

“Each of the more than 1,500 Denny’s were planning to make about 100 Grand Slams an hour,” Denny’s spokeswoman Cori Rice said. It had predicted it will have served about 1,400 people per location, more than five times the normal volume. “Grand Slam Breakfast” is a four-item option on its menu, consisting of two pancakes, two eggs, two strips of bacon and two sausage links. It weighs in at 44 grams of fat, 56 carbohydrates and 770 calories.

Nationwide, Denny’s expected to sell about 2 million Grand Slams — about 15 percent of the annual tally. According to Mark Chmiel, chief marketing operator and executive vice president, the diner chain has reported approximately 2 million meals worth more than $12 million were given away nationwide and each Denny’s restaurant served an average of 130 Grand Slams per hour. It estimated it has earned about $50 million worth of public relations following the free Grand Slam campaign, Chmiel said.

The company is also experimenting with a Grand Slam Burrito and also has introduced for this year, a Grand Slamwich, which includes eggs, bacon, sausage and cheese between two slices of bread, with a teaspoon serving. “It already has shown strong consumer appeal,” said Chmiel. The company has received flood of e-mails and letters proving the positive impact of the Grand Slam campaign and commercials on its customers.

Chmiel also announced he’s planning a third major promotion in this year’s third quarter, which happens to include another major sporting event, the World Series. “That’s one we’re definitely looking at,” he said.

Jobless Paris Winslow of downtown San Francisco, California has joined the long line which stretched from the front door on Mission Street, between Fourth and Fifth streets, to the corner of Fourth and up the block. “The economy is getting kind of scary. This line looks like those pictures of soup kitchen lines during the 1929 Great Depression,” Winslow said.

“I came all the way from San Francisco for a free $6 meal, Isn’t that pathetic? A year ago, I never would have done this. These days I’m willing to put my ego on the back burner,” said Stephen Weller, a jobless contractor who waited with his dog, Emmett. California Denny’s restaurant managers have issued rain checks (for free chilled meals, as security backed by actual bacon) to anyone who failed to get in by the 2 p.m. deadline.

A big eater could also “Slam It Up” by adding any two additional items for 99 cents each to their meal. Customers on Tuesday were also handed “bounceback” coupon books that include offers for additional free menu items with purchases. Chicago Tribune reporter Kevin Pang has eaten five free Grand Slams on Tuesday at five different Denny’s Diners in four hours. He claims to have consumed 4,100 calories at Harwood Heights, 5:36 a.m, at Schiller Park, 6:22 a.m., at Franklin Park, 7:08 a.m., at Melrose Park, 7:41 a.m. and at Grand Slam No. 5 Oak Park, 8:57 a.m.

“The Grand Slam has always been a Denny’s favorite. This free offer is our way of reacquainting America with Denny’s real breakfast and with the Denny’s brand,” Denny’s CEO Nelson Marchioli said in a statement. In 1977s, the Grand Slam started as a baseball-related promotion in Atlanta, Georgia. Its normal price averages around $5.99. Marchioli said the event was also a way to kick-off its “Year of the Grand Slam” promotion. Denny’s claimed it has sold 12.5 million Grand Slams a year.

“The economy’s tough and people are jumping all the way to fast food to try to figure it out. We all use fast food, whether it’s for time or convenience or for money. But you can go to Denny’s and you don’t have to give up a real breakfast and that was the whole focus of our commercial,” Marchioli explained. McDonald’s (MCD, Fortune 500) has done well during this economic meltdown since the global recession pushes people toward less expensive dining options.

McDonald’s has announced plans Wednesday to open 175 new restaurants in China this year despite the global economic crisis, thereby increasing the number of outlets in China by 17 percent, from 1,050 currently. Last month, McDonald’s 2008 net profit has risen 80 percent from 2007 to 4.3 billion dollars.

Marchioli has also introduced Denny’s $4 Weekday Express Slam, which is a streamlined version of the Grand Slam. “I want to take back share. For too long, we have allowed others to take share, whether it was Starbucks or McDonald’s. They’re fine competitors and I don’t expect to take all their business from them, but I’d like a little bit back,” Marchioli noted.

According to Rafi Mohammed, author of “The Art of Pricing,” people love free. “It triggers a Pavlovian response in people,” said Mohammed. If Pavlov’s dogs salivate when a bell rings, Denny’s free Grand Slam breakfast has attracted 2 million hungry customers. “I believe free maximizes trial and doesn’t devalue a product as long as it is a rare event. Aside from the cost, the major downside is that it attracts customers who truly have no intention of coming back,” he added.

According to University of Portland consumer psychology professor Deana Julka, people flock to free promotions amid just a few dollars saving because there’s nothing in life for free. “So when there’s something out there that costs nothing, it creates a psychological rush. Especially in these times when people feel overtaxed or overburden, there’s an internal reward people feel by getting something for free,” she said. “It’s being thrifty and feeling like you beat the system. Free really hits the spot for a lot of people,” Julka added.

“Free is an emotional hot button. When free is concerned, there is no downside – or, at least, we don’t see the downside immediately. So we overvalue everything that is free. People love free stuff, particularly when money’s tight,” said Dan Ariely, a business professor at Duke University, author of “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.”

Experts, however, explained these moves need to be done sparingly, since giveaways can teeter in the balance between desperation and a well designed marketing ploy. “Giving your product away for free is not worth it because it undermines your brand value,” said branding expert Rob Frankel, saying people are attached to the idea of it being free, than the actual product itself.

Free giveaways are not anything new in the food industry. “It just feels good when you can get something for free and not have to worry about it coming out of your wallet,” Frankel noted. Dunkin’ Donuts and Panera Bread all have had free coffee and food promos last year. “In November, Starbucks gave away free cup of coffee to anyone who came in on Election Day. Have you taken a look at how Starbucks is doing now?” Last week it has announced it would shut down 300 stores, in addition to the 600 it already planned to close.

On February 24, IHOP will be offering a free shortstack to every customer to encourage donations (in place of the cost) for Childrens Miracle Network. The International House of Pancakes (IHOP) is a United States-based restaurant chain that specializes in breakfast foods and is owned by DineEquity. The chain had more than 1950 restaurants in all 50 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada and Mexico. Since 2006, IHOP’s National Pancake Day celebration has raised over $1.85 million. In 2008, over 1.5 million pancakes (12 miles high if they were stacked) were given to customers for donations.

Denny’s (“Denny’s Diner”) is a full-service diner/family restaurant chain in the United States. It operates over 2,500 restaurants in the United States (including Puerto Rico), Canada, Curaçao, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, and New Zealand). The resto chain is known for always being open, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert around the clock.

Today, Denny’s operates about 1,600 restaurants in all 50 U.S. states, Canada and Mexico. There are also about 578 Denny’s restaurants in Japan operated under a license by a subsidiary of Seven & I Holdings, seven Denny’s locations in New Zealand, and approximately 38 Denny’s diners in the United States. Denny’s headquarters is now located in Spartanburg, South Carolina, headquarters of the parent company Trans World Corporation that acquired Denny’s in 1987.

Denny’s was historically notable for offering a free meal to anyone on their birthday. The offer included a limited number of meal options from a special birthday menu. The promotional ritual ceased in 1993, though occasionally individual franchises will continue the tradition.

In 2008, Denny’s has ceased to be in the ranks among the top diner chains in the $83 billion breakfast market, whose top five firms — McDonald’s, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Burger King and IHOP — accounted for 22 percent of the volume. “A lot of consumers have written Denny’s off their let’s-go-there list,” said Ron Paul, president of Technomic, a consulting firm.

Super Bowl XLIII was an American football game between the American Football Conference champion Pittsburgh Steelers (15–4) and the National Football Conference champion Arizona Cardinals (12–8) to decide the National Football League (NFL) champion for the 2008 NFL season. It was played on February 1, 2009, at Raymond James Stadiumin Tampa, Florida. It has an attendance of 70,774 and 98.7 million viewers. Pittsburgh earned its sixth Super Bowl win, thus securing sole possession of the record for most Super Bowl wins.

Scottish lawyer denies death of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Scottish lawyer today denied reports that Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi had died, after it was reported on Sky News earlier today that “unidentified sources” had said that he was dead.

The reports came onto Sky News at around 16.00 BST today. The information could not be confirmed, and it was not immediately clear where Sky News had obtained their information. Megrahi is suffering from terminal prostate cancer. Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill MSP decided on 20 August 2009 to grant Megrahi compassionate release from Greenock Prison in Glasgow, Scotland and to allow him to return to Libya, after medical advisers reported that he was likely to die in just three months.

On Wednesday, Megrahi’s lawyer, Tony Kelly, responded to the claims made, saying that “it’s absolutely untrue. He’s definitely not dead. I’m not saying anything about his health condition other than the fact he is alive and breathing.” He declined to release any information about Abdelbaset’s current health condition. Following these comments, Sky News removed the information from their website.

Quiznos restaurant chain airs controversial commercial

Friday, April 3, 2009

Quiznos, a fast food restaurant chain that specializes in selling submarine sandwiches, has aired a controversial television commercial, with an extended version only appearing in the late-night lineups. The commercial is a promotion for the company’s new sandwich, the ‘Toasty Torpedo’. Bob Sassone, a writer for TVSquad.com, argues that it is homosexually themed and compares it to pornography.

The commercial begins with a toaster oven talking to Scott, a Quiznos sandwich maker, in a male voice. “Scott, I want you to do something,” says the toaster to Scott. As he takes a bite of a Torpedo and appears to look in the direction of his genitals, Scott says to the toaster, “[sic] not doing that again. That burned.” The toaster replies, “We both enjoyed that.”

Later in the commercial, the toaster asks Scott to make one of the sandwiches and says the price of it is “sexy” and then “sexier.” Scott grins and does so. The toaster then asks Scott to “stick it in me”. The sandwich just happens to be 12 inches long, giving the appearance of a special relationship between Scott and the toaster oven.

Quiznos published a press release on March 24 announcing the new line of sandwiches. They stated that their price of US$4 helps to ease the economic pinch. In a statement to Wikinews Quiznos stated that their commercials are within the company’s character and they were designed to get people talking.

“We developed our new ads to be consistent with the Quiznos brand and to get people excited about our new Toasty Torpedoes. Some of the ads are edgy and provocative, but they’re well within the confines of the Quiznos brand character,” said Rebecca Steinfort, chief marketing officer for Quiznos to Wikinews.

“Since Quiznos has a broad range of consumers that eat at its more than 4,500 restaurants nationwide, we tailor our commercials to be relevant and appeal to our diverse customers – all of whom are watching different kinds of programming. The new ads are fun and entertaining, and the edginess and innuendo of the ads are designed to get people talking about our new Toasty Torpedoes, and that’s exactly what we want: people to talk and taste our new sandwiches,” added Steinfort.

Bob Sassone a writer for TVSquad.com, one of the Internet’s top television weblogs, compared the commercial to a pornography film.

“The new Quizno’s commercial is probably the closest we’ll get to a gay porn flick in a mainstream sub shop ad,” Sassone wrote.

In 2007, the company made another controversial commercial. It featured people on the street eating samples of a Quiznos ‘Prime Rib Dinner’ sandwich. They promoted it as having a lot of “meat” and near the end it featured two women eating a sandwich saying, “It’s not lacking any meat. And that’s what real women need”.

“Nevertheless, Quiznos remains committed to providing its customers with high-quality ingredients at everyday lower prices, all with excellent service. As such, we encourage consumers to give feedback on the commercials to our corporate marketing department through the website,” said Steinfort.

Six dead following flash flooding in Palestine, Texas

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

News reports on Monday indicated authorities in Palestine, Texas identified a sixth victim following flash flooding late last week. Giovani Olivas, 30, was reportedly swept away in the flood.

In under an hour late Friday evening, Palestine was deluged by seven inches of rain, causing residents of one neighborhood to flee to their rooftops. Over 30 buildings, included many homes, in the city suffered significant damage.

Lenda Asberry, 64, a retired school teacher, and her four great grandchildren also drowned during the flood. Onlookers reported the woman was attempting to get the children to safety when they were swept away. Asberry’s daughter told reporters water levels were up to the woman’s neck while attempting to save the children.

One resident of the area told reporters “[her] furniture was floating around” inside her home, forcing her to climb atop her couch to seek safety.

Dark skies blanketed the nearby city of Tyler hours before the storm struck. At least one government office located in the Palestine area was closed on Monday and was slated to remain closed on Tuesday due to water damage. A tornado also ravaged much of nearby Lindale, Texas, resulting in severe damage of at least one residence. The storm system moved up along the US eastern seaboard over the weekend.