Bride Sues Caterer After More Than 100 Guests Become Violently Ill During Reception
“There weren’t enough bathrooms to support the people who were getting sick — both vomiting and diarrhea," Melissa Conarton, 37, said of her 2015 wedding.
An idyllic summer wedding became an apocalyptic eruption of vomiting, fainting and frantic rushing to the bathroom when at least 100 guests came down with what they believe to be food poisoning.
Bride Melissa Conarton, 37, said her July 31, 2015 reception at Arrowhead Lodge, located on Oneida Lake, New York, was a scene out of a horror movie.
"There were fire trucks there, ambulances, there were tarps laid out to triage our guests," Conarton told InsideEdition.com. "They were having intravenous catheters put in to rehydrate them, some were in stretchers because they were unable to move. The guests were not themselves — they were kind of incoherent all the time.”
Conarton explained the special day for her and her husband, Jesse Abbott, began as beautifully as they had planned.
She and a couple of close friends and family members arrived at the resort in the morning to begin setting up decorations. Conarton said she brought a cheese platter with vegetables and pepperoni for the group to snack on as they got ready.
By noon, their caterer, Holy Smoke BBQ and Catering of Earlville, owned by Doug Tarpinian, came to set up as guests began arriving.
Festivities began and continued as planned, when just before 8 p.m., Conarton was asked to meet one of her guests outside.
“I went out to her vehicle and she was in and out of being unconscious," she said. “She was getting sick into a grocery bag we found for her [...] that is when more guests started to become sick shortly after. It was kind of like dominos — one getting sick after another.”
A couple of sick guests soon became dozens, which quickly caused a shortage of bathrooms.
"[Guests were] not making it to the bathroom," Conarton recalled. "There weren't enough bathrooms to support the people who were getting sick — both vomiting and diarrhea."
Eventually, at least 100 guests out of the more than 200 attendees fell ill, with 22 guests being admitted to the hospital, some overnight.
“It’s horrible to see your friends and family becoming ill, the children that were sick — we were of course concerned about them,” she said. "And we didn’t really know what was hitting them until someone said it was food poisoning."
It was later determined guests were sick from staphylococcus aureus, better known as staph infection, according to a lawsuit.
Both Conarton and Tarpinian, Holy Smoke BBQ’s owner, said the pulled pork, barbecue chicken and bag of lettuce provided in the catering service was tested. The cheese platter appetizer Conarton brought for the set-up crew was also tested, she said.
The results were negative, leading Conarton and her lawyers to believe the macaroni and cheese provided by Holy Smoke BBQ was the cause of the food poisoning outbreak.
However, the platter of mac and cheese was thrown away before it could be tested.
“That’s what people were saying — some people only ate the mac and cheese, they didn’t eat any of the other items. Some of the kids that were only 3 years old, 2 years old, only were able to eat the mac and cheese,” Conarton said. “That was the statistical significance — it’s just that when you throw away the evidence, they cannot know for sure how it was contaminated.”
Tarpinian disagreed, saying his family also ate the mac and cheese and did not fall ill.
“I’m 100 percent sure that wasn’t it,” he told InsideEdition.com. “That’s what they’re saying because we couldn’t provide leftover mac and cheese for them to analyze. Who saves leftover mac and cheese?”
State Health Officials confirmed the affected guests had suffered staph infections, but did not recover any food from the event to test, and were not able to identify which food items caused the illness, Syracuse.com reported.
InsideEdition.com has reached out to health officials for comment.
Tarpinian explained he has catered plenty of events in the last 10 years of his business without incident, but since media reports on the lawsuit came to light last week, he has had several cancellations for events later this summer.
"They’re slandering the hell out of me and it’s not right,” he said. "They’re killing my business. We might have to close down now — I’m all over the news. I built this business up. It took me 12 years to build — for them to tear me apart — it’s just unbelievable."
Conarton also gifted moonshine to her guests as party favors, which Tarpinian contends may have been the cause of the food poisoning. But Conarton disagreed, saying the moonshine was not meant to be opened at the reception and the kids, many of whom became sick, were not consuming liquor.
"All we want to do is make sure we are taking care of our guests," Conarton said. “We don’t want them to go into debt or incur debt due to a day that was supposed to be celebratory for us."
She said she and her husband are now suing to have medical bills for the 22 guests that were hospitalized that evening paid for, an estimated sum of $12,000.
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