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UCLA chemistry professor avoids prison time in fatal lab fire case

Trials and ArbitrationUCLA
.@UCLA chem professor strikes agreement, avoids jail in case re: fatal lab fire that killed research assistant

UCLA chemistry professor Patrick Harran on Friday struck a deal with prosecutors that all but frees him from criminal liability in a 2008 laboratory fire that killed staff research assistant Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji.

Harran, charged with four felony counts of willfully violating state occupational health and safety standards, had faced up to 4-1/2 years in prison if convicted.

Instead, under an agreement approved by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge George Lomeli, Harran, 44, was ordered to pay $10,000 to the Grossman Burn Center and to perform 800 hours of community service.

Harran admitted no wrongdoing in what is thought to be the first criminal case arising in an academic lab accident. The charges will be dropped if he successfully fulfills the terms of the agreement.

Sangji, 23, was not wearing a protective lab coat and suffered severe burns on Dec. 29, 2008, when a plastic syringe she was using to transfer t-butyl lithium from one sealed container to another came apart, spewing a chemical compound that ignites when exposed to air. She died 18 days later.

Harran and UCLA contended that her death was a tragic accident, not a crime.

For investigative news, follow @kchristensenLAT

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

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11:12 a.m. PDT: This post was updated to reflect that the money Harran was ordered to pay will go to the Grossman Burn Center.

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