Records: Those sickened at taqueria ate bistek tacos

City of Brownsville Department of Public Health shuts down El Rey Del Taco along Alton Gloor after customers ended up in the hospital due to food poisoning. (Miguel Roberts | The Brownsville Herald)

Police documents indicate that 29 people who became sickened at a Brownsville taqueria on Jan. 30 ate bistek tacos.

Four separate reports obtained by The Brownsville Herald include 32 people who suffered from vomiting and diarrhea after eating at El Rey Del Taco between 9:30 and 11:30 p.m. on Jan 30. At the time the reports were taken, officers did not know what three of the complainants ate.

The Cameron County Public Health and Brownsville Public Health departments are jointly investigating the mass food poisoning incident, with county officials working to identify the source, determine exposure period, create a treatment plan and contain the problem.

The City of Brownsville has only said it is assisting the county in its investigation of the restaurant, which is closed pending the findings of that investigation.

On Wednesday, Cameron County Public Health Administrator Esmeralda Guajardo said the investigation is ongoing.

“Ninety-five percent of the time we work with confirmed lab results, which clearly identify what we are working with, and we then work to contain it to ensure no one else gets sick. The other five percent of the time we work ‘backwards’ — as we are with this case — and that will always be much more complex and take much longer. This case is no exception,” Guajardo said.

Once the investigation is complete, Guajardo said the county health department will issue a press release with its findings.

The four police reports show that just before 11 p.m. on Jan. 30 people sickened after eating at the taqueria began showing up at Valley Regional Medical Center, Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville and Exceptional Emergency Center with symptoms of food poisoning, including vomiting, diarrhea and nausea.

The police responded to calls from nurses, and one officer reported hearing at least one sick person as he left the hospital to respond to the restaurant.

“As we were in the process of leaving the hospital and head over to the taqueria, the sounds of a person painfully throwing up could be heard,” an officer wrote in a report.

The last person sickened from eating at the restaurant showed up at Exceptional Emergency Center at approximately 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 31, according to the police report.

Since then, two lawsuits have been filed against El Rey Del Taco.

Carlos Cardenas, Erika Uvalle and two minor children — who are named in the police reports — filed a lawsuit seeking damages, though it doesn’t specify an amount.

Melissa Perez, Joel Chavez, Lisa Marie Chavez, Kimberly Montalvo Garcia and three minor children also filed a lawsuit against the restaurant.

As for that lawsuit, the police report only mentions Joel Chavez, though it’s possible that some people who became ill did not go to the hospital or were not included in the police reports. When adding Melissa Perez, Lisa Marie Chavez, Kimberly Montalvo Garcia and the three minor children to the total, the tally would bring those sickened at the taqueria to 38.

The litigation states that all of the plaintiffs became ill after eating at El Rey Del Taco around the time people started becoming sick.

“The plaintiffs seek monetary relief of $200,000 each but not exceeding $1,000,000.00 each,” that lawsuit stated.