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Charges against UC regents dropped in lab death

July 27, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A judge has dismissed criminal charges against the regents of the University of California in connection with a deadly lab fire at UCLA four years ago.

A judge approved a deal dropping felony charges that the regents violated occupational health and safety standards. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office says the regents agreed to take corrective safety measures and to establish a $500,000 scholarship at UC Berkeley in the name of the research assistant who died.

A school professor is still facing criminal charges.

In 2008, research assistant Sheri Sangji, 23, died after being severely burned when a lab experiment burst into flames. Authorities say Sangji wasn't wearing a lab coat when a flammable chemical spilled and caught fire. Sangji was working for Patrick Harran, a highly-recruited, hard-charging professor in the chemistry department.

Investigators from the state Occupational Health And Safety Agency (Cal OSHA) questioned Harran and determined that Sangji had not been taught how to work safely with the dangerous chemical she used that day.

The university has paid Cal OSHA fines related to the Sangji accident, and for other violations they uncovered. UCLA is contesting another fine for not reporting a previous lab accident that seriously burned a graduate student.

Harran is due back in court on Sept. 5. He faces three counts of willfully violating occupational health and safety standards causing the student's death. It's the first time a professor in the United States has been charged with a felony for the workplace death of an employee.

If convicted, Harran faces up to 4.5 years in prison.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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