RALEIGH, N.C. — A Cary High School student pleaded guilty Wednesday to spiking his science teacher's water bottle with acid.
Zachary Midgett, 17, agreed to plead guilty to a charge of assault on a government official in exchange for a sentence to a six-month boot camp program called Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy, where he can earn his high school diploma.
District Judge William Creech said said he would revisit the case in December, and Midgett could face jail time if he doesn't successfully complete the boot camp program. Assault on a government official carries a maximum sentence of 150 days in jail.
Midgett admitted putting hydrochloric acid and zinc chloride from the school science lab in a water bottle belonging to teacher Wendy Beeler two months ago, police said.
Beeler said she was drinking from the bottle while her students were taking a test and noticed the water tasted funny. She said she realized something was wrong only when one of her students warned her not to drink any more water.
Hydrochloric acid is a highly corrosive liquid that, if concentrated, can cause severe burns on the skin and can be deadly if swallowed or inhaled. It's also a main component in stomach acid, aiding in breaking down and digesting food.
Zinc chloride is a white powder that is considered highly toxic if ingested. It is used in processing textiles and soldering metals.
Beeler said she broke out in a rash and felt weak after drinking the water. She was treated at WakeMed Cary hospital and released.
Defense attorney Duncan McMillan said Midgett never intended to harm Beeler, calling the incident a foolish prank.
"He understands certainly what he did was foolish, recognizes in hindsight how potentially dangerous it was and is sorry that he did it," McMillan said.
Midgett was expelled from Cary High after the incident, and Beeler said she agreed to the boot camp proposal to help the teen get his life back on the right track.
"I don't really know his heart. I hope he's sorry," she said.
"She had a devoted career of trying to advance students, and it seems to me when a student turns on a teacher like this, it's like shooting himself in the foot," Wake County Assistant District Attorney Matt Godwin said.
Beeler said she considered giving up her 19-year teaching career after the incident, but decided she couldn't let fear keep her from her passion. Still, she said, the incident is something she will never forget.
"He forced me to intake some poison, poison in my lab. I was very upset by that," she said.