Monday, October 15

Charges dismissed after professor involved in fatal 2008 lab fire fulfills deal


The Molecular Biology Institute, where the fire happened almost 10 years ago. (Amy Dixon/Photo editor)

The Molecular Biology Institute, where the fire happened almost 10 years ago. (Amy Dixon/Photo editor)



Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated the investigation occurred in 2002. In fact, the investigation occurred in 2012.

This post was updated Sept. 23 at 10:07 p.m.

A Los Angeles judge dismissed criminal charges against a UCLA professor whose failure to enforce proper safety precautions resulted in a 2008 lab fire and the death of a lab assistant.

Patrick Harran, a professor of chemistry, is thought to be the first American professor criminally charged for an academic lab accident.

Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji was working as a lab assistant in Harran’s lab to save money for law school when a bottle of tert-Butyllithium, a chemical that ignites when exposed to air, spilled and started a fire. She was not wearing a lab coat at the time and did not go under the emergency shower until emergency responders arrived. A Cal/OSHA investigation in 2012 also found Sangji was not properly trained to handle the chemical.

Sangji suffered second- and third-degree burns on over 40 percent of her body, which ultimately caused her death in January 2009.

Harran agreed to a deferred prosecution deal in 2014 that would dismiss charges if he fulfilled a number of requirements for 5 years. These requirements included performing 800 hours of community service in the UCLA Hospitals, teaching organic chemistry classes to inner-city students in the summer and paying $10,000 to the Grossman Burn Center.

Although the original agreement was supposed to end June 2019, a Superior Court judge shortened the length of the agreement at the request of Harran’s attorney. Had he been convicted on all charges, Harran could have faced up to 4 1/2 years in prison.

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Rosenbluth is the assistant News editor for the Science and Health beat. She was previously a News contributor for the science and health beat. She is a third-year psychobiology student who loves learning about evolutionary biology and neuroscience.


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  • http://chemjobber.blogspot.com Chemjobber

    “Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji was working as a lab assistant in Harran’s lab to save money for law school when a bottle of tert-Butyllithium, a chemical that ignites when exposed to air, spilled and started a fire.”

    This is not accurate – she was transferring the tert-butyllithium by syringe from the bottle to a flask when the syringe failed. Google “Learning from UCLA” by Jyllian Kemsley.

    • Alexander Belanger

      It doesn’t seem inaccurate — “Suddenly, the syringe came apart in her hands, spilling the liquid,” from “Death in the Lab” by Discover Magazine.

      The syringe failed, causing the liquid to spill.