The preliminary hearing for UCLA organic chemistry professor Patrick Harran began Friday with testimony from the doctor of a UCLA research assistant who died from a 2008 UCLA lab fire.
Harran, the supervisor of the research assistant, pleaded not guilty in September to three felony counts of willingly violating health and safety standards by not requiring his staff to wear lab coats, according to Daily Bruin archives.
The hearing will determine whether or not there is enough evidence for Harran’s case to go to trial, according to several news reports.
If convicted, Harran could face up to four and a half years in prison.
On Dec. 29, 2008, a highly flammable, air-sensitive chemical, called t-butyl lithium, spilled on research assistant Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji’s sweater when the syringe she was working with came undone, according to Daily Bruin archives. Her clothes, which were not covered by a lab coat, caught on fire and led to fatal burns on more than half of her body.
Dr. Peter H. Grossman treated Sangji for injuries caused by the fire. He said at the hearing on Friday that Sangji told him she spilled a chemical on her sweater while working in the lab, according to several news reports.
Grossman explained the multiple procedures Sangji underwent before doctors declared her brain dead, according to the Associated Press. She was taken off life support in January 2009.
Both the University of California Board of Regents and Harran were charged with violating lab safety standards following Sangji’s death.
The Los Angeles District Attorney dropped the charges against the regents in July as part of a plea deal, in which the regents accepted responsibility for the conditions under which the laboratory was operated.
The regents also said they would improve their safety regulations and establish a $500,000 scholarship in Sangji’s name as part of the deal.
The preliminary hearing will continue this week in the Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Compiled by Erin Donnelly, Bruin senior staff.