The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office announced Friday that a settlement had been reached with the UC Board of Regents in a criminal case regarding a 2008 fire in a UCLA chemistry laboratory that left a 23-year-old research assistant dead from burn injuries.
The UC Board of Regents, which was originally facing felony charges in the case on three counts of willfully violating occupational health and safety standards causing death, reached a settlement that includes taking “comprehensive corrective safety measures.” The settlement also involves the establishment of a $500,000 scholarship in the name of the late research assistant, Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji, for UC Berkeley School of Law students to study environmental law.
The scholarship was created to honor Sangji’s memory, since the law school sent her an acceptance letter shortly after the accident.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Shelly Torrealba has dropped all charges against the board, although charges still stand against UCLA chemistry professor Patrick Harran, who was Sangji’s supervisor and who still faces three felony charges. Both the regents and Harran were originally charged and had a criminal case filed against them in December 2011.
“The defendants were charged with three felony counts of violating occupational health and safety standards,” reads the district attorney’s press release. “The criminal case continues against Harran, 43, who faces 4-1/2 years in prison if convicted.”
Sangji’s sweater caught on fire in the lab and melted onto her skin when she was transferring a chemical from one sealed container to another. She died 18 days later from burn injuries.
“The young woman (Sangji), was not wearing a protective lab coat when transferring highly flammable tert-Butyllithium, which spilled from a syringe and ignited,” reads the district attorney’s press release. “She died from her injuries 18 days after the fire, on Jan. 16, 2009.”
According to a campus press release, UCLA has expanded its lab safety policies and inspections since the accident, and will also continue working to establish a lab safety program and policies for all 10 UC campuses.
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