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CalOSHA report faults UCLA, professor in lab death

A 2008 lab accident killed staff research assistant Sheharbano 'Sheri' Sangji.

January 21, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
A new report by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health blames a UCLA professor and the university for a lab accident in 2008 that killed a staff research assistant.

The criminal investigation report obtained by the Los Angeles Times stated that 23-year-old Sheharbano "Sheri" Sangji wasn't experienced or well-trained, if not trained at all, to handle the chemicals that killed her.

Sangji was severely burned over nearly half her body when air-sensitive chemicals burst into flames and ignited her clothes at a campus lab in December 2008. She died 18 days later.

Felony charges were filed last month against UCLA chemistry professor Patrick Harran and the U.C. Board of Regents.

"Dr. Harran simply disregarded the open and obvious dangers presented in this case and permitted Victim Sangji to work in a manner that knowingly caused her to be exposed to a serious and foreseeable risk of serious injury or death," the report states.

University officials criticized the report's findings and say they contradict an earlier CalOSHA investigation that resulted in nearly $32,000 in CalOSHA fines but no findings of intentional, or "willful," violations.

Harran and the Board of Regents are charged with three counts each of willfully violating occupational health and safety standards. Harran faces up to 4 1/2 years in prison if convicted; the regents could be fined up to $4.5 million. Arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 2.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.