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Plea Deal for Hibachi Cook Who Served Toddler Sake

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MASSILLON, Ohio -- The cook at a hibachi-style restaurant who served sake to a 2-year-old child agreed to a plea deal Thursday morning, Fox 8 News reports.

Mingyang Zhu, 27, of Canton, pleaded no contest to an amended charge of negligent assault. He paid a $323 fine and was ordered by Massillon Municipal Court Judge Edward Elum to complete 40 hours of community service over a probationary period of five years. He was originally charged with furnishing intoxicating liquor to a minor, a first-degree misdemeanor.

Following the incident, Zhu told officers that he "attempted to make a movement like he was going to give the child a drink, without pouring any." He stated that when he made the movement, he accidentally poured a small amount into the child's mouth.

Karl Preusser Jr., 2, was with his parents and their friends enjoying a night out at the Wasabi Japanese Steakhouse when the incident occurred. Wasabi is a steakhouse where the cook prepares the meal in front of a table of guests.

Preusser's mother, Brittany Winter, said that Zhu went around the table, offering guests some sake -- a Japanese rice wine -- from a squirt bottle. The first time around, she told police that Zhu jokingly asked the toddler if he was of legal drinking age, but did not give him any. It was a different story the second time around, however.

"He asked K.J. if he was 21, and K.J. said, 'Yes,' and opened his mouth because, of course, that's what he sees everybody doing," Winter told Fox 8 News. "(That's when) he squirted a mouthful of sake into his mouth."

Winter said the boy immediately started to cry and complained that his mouth was burning.

Other witnesses said the parents got something else for the boy to drink while the cook started to quickly gather his things to leave.

Winter and the boy's father, Karl Preusser Sr., left the restaurant and went straight to the Jackson Township Police Department.

"He's 2-years-old, still in diapers," Preusser Sr. said. "Who would even think about serving him alcohol?"

Officers went to the restaurant, where they were able to confirm the story through witnesses, one of whom said she had to "do a double-take in the direction of the table to make sure it was a child."

In her statement, the witness said, "The cook reached his arm over the grill and squirted sake into the kid's mouth for about 3-5 seconds."

"It was a little more than a small amount. It was a whole mouthful," Preusser Sr. said.

In the police report, manager Josh Lin "did advise (the responding officer) that the bottles contain sake," and that "it does contain alcohol."

The police report said "they sometimes keep smaller bottles with Sprite in them for children, and that the employees are only supposed to give the non-alcoholic beverages to children."

"He spit it all over his shirt," Winter said. "He reeked of alcohol when we left."

Winter told Fox 8 News that the boy was deemed to be fine during an examination at the police department conducted by paramedics.

"I think this certainly is a strange situation," JTPD Chief David Zink said last fall. "We have never had that, to my knowledge, in the past. Providing alcohol to any child, let alone an infant, is certainly disturbing."