LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Los Angeles County prosecutors have filed criminal charges against the University of California and a UCLA professor in the death of a 23-year-old assistant who was killed in a lab fire.

A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Professor Patrick Harran, A UCLA lab director and organic chemistry professor. Prosecutors said the 42-year-old could face up to 4 1/2 years in prison if convicted of three counts of occupational health and safety standards causing death.

The University of California faces the same charges and could be slapped with $5 million in fines if found guilty, according to the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office.

The charges stem from the December 2008 lab accident that killed Sheharbano “Sheri’ Sangji. She was severely burned over nearly half her body when an air-sensitive experiment exploded, igniting her clothing.

(credit: Facebook.com)

Sangji, who was not wearing a protective lab coat, died 18 days later.

The 23-year-old Pakistani native had just graduated from Pomona College in Claremont and was applying to law school when she took a research job at UCLA with Prof. Farran.

Three years after her death, the woman’s family has raised questions about UCLA lab practices, training and supervision.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health [Cal/OSHA] had fined UCLA more than $31,000 in May 2009, after finding that Sangji had not been trained properly and had not been provided with a protective lab coat. State regulators found three “serious” violations of workplace safety laws.

Cal/OSHA also cited UCLA for not addressing deficiencies noted in an internal safety inspection two months before the fatal fire in Harran’s organic chemistry lab, including a finding that workers were not wearing lab coats.

UCLA issued a statement Tuesday saying it “intends to mount a vigorous defense against the outrageous charges.”

“Since the time of the accident, UCLA has fully cooperated with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health and the District Attorney’s Office,” the statement said.

(credit: CBS)

“Following a meeting with the district attorney in October 2010, UCLA has not been contacted by the district attorney or received any requests for documents or interviews until being notified about pending charges two days before Christmas.

“The district attorney’s decision to file charges today is truly baffling and directly contradicts the findings of the state agency responsible for evaluating workplace safety.

“Since the accident, UCLA has dramatically increased the number of laboratory inspections and become a leader in the field and other universities and research organizations look to the center as a comprehensive resource on lab safety. The facts provide absolutely no basis for the appalling allegation of criminal conduct and UCLA is confident an impartial jury would agree.”

Several calls made by KCAL9 News to Prof. Harran and the Sangji family were not returned.

Comments (15)
  1. UCLA spy says:

    sound like they were making meth, but what do I know.

  2. Johnny Popp says:

    I dunno why but this story sounds incomplete and as it’s presented, I don’t think this Arrest is warranted…
    UCLA is a Fine Institution that MANY people owe their lives to and I cannot believe that a professor at UCLA would intentionally jepordize the life or saftey of ANY Person! It HAD to to be an accident ~ don’t make a Bad situation Worse!

    1. Uhoh says:

      YAWN…not in my neighborhood attitude…

  3. Robert S. says:

    Medlers want to “make mountains out of mole hills”, and we are about to “legislate our way out of existence”! Big brother will protect us all! It is gonna be harder and harder to get by, as we will have controlled our selves out! My condolences to the girl’s family, as no one wishes tosee such a situation come about, but when in “A lab position”, one should have face protection, as well as a lab coat when working in an explosive experiment. Also I think we are doing a wonderful job of “Educating Outsiders” that might go home, and work against us in the future. We educate the world, and they may pay us back by “Turning their new knowledge” against us! Think about it.

  4. Rob Hanes says:

    This is a travesty, a tragedy and certainly not criminal. Thousand of us have done these same types of experiments. There is a accepted risk of being a chemist, no different than being a race car driver or a football player, death and permanent injuries are an accepted part of the profession. It was this students responsibillty, it was her choice not to wear the protective gear. Prof. Harran should no more be held criminally negligent than the DA for bringing the case. This type of a case is a benchmark for our country, are we going to let lawyers and technocrats control our lives and protect us from ourselves, or are we going to embrace risk and responsbility of living in a free society.

  5. EFogel says:

    Check his safety record elsewhere. You will see a pattern.

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