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.