Crime & Justice

UCLA chemist gets community service, $10,000 fine after lab fire killed research assistant

File: UCLA campus from the roof of the Mathematical Sciences building.
File: UCLA campus from the roof of the Mathematical Sciences building.
Better Than Bacon/Flickr Creative Commons

The criminal prosecution of a University of California, Los Angeles chemistry professor stemming from a lab fire that killed a research assistant working for him has ended with a settlement, the professor's lawyer Thomas O'Brien tells KPCC.

The deal calls for professor Patrick Harran to prepare inner-city high school students for college chemistry for five years, perform 800 hours of community service and pay a $10,000 fine.

RELATED: Felony charges filed against chemistry professor in fatal laboratory death

Research assistant Sheharbano "Sheri" Sangji was experimenting with a chemical in 2008 when it burst into flames. She wasn't wearing a protective coat and was burned. She died 18 days later.

"Some of the family members did speak at the court today, but they never brought a civil lawsuit," Obrien said.

The district attorney's office says Harran acknowledged in court Friday that he was the direct supervisor of the victim and was ultimately responsible for the safety of personnel.

“He takes responsibility of the conditions of his laboratory, and the people that work under him," O'Brien said. "It’s a horrible tragedy, he feels extremely remorseful for what happened  to Sheri Sangji and expresses his condolences as he always had to the Sangji family."

Harran had been charged with felony violations of state labor codes and failure to require body protection for employees, "essentially charging criminal violations of failure to instruct properly, failure to ensure that laboratory clothing was acquired by people in his laboratory, that sort of thing," O'Brien said.

The UC system has taken steps to improve safety following the tragedy, O'Brien said.

"Before there was really any investigation by the DA’s office, UCLA and the UC regents themselves took a look at the lab safety program and really took it upside-down and spent millions of dollars in improvements to the laboratories," O'Brien said, "not just at UCLA but throughout the UC system."

Harran will continue with UCLA, Harran said.

"He’s a world renowned organic chemist, he has been doing groundbreaking research for many years and he will not only be able now to continue doing that type of research," O'Brien said, "but he’s going to remain focused on improving lab safety, not just in his own laboratory but throughout California."

This story has been updated.