Bumble Bee Foods, Two Others Charged in Death of Employee Trapped Inside Industrial Oven

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Bumble Bee Foods and two of its managers were charged in the 2012 death of an employee who became trapped inside an industrial oven at the company's Santa Fe Springs plant. (Credit: KTLA)

Bumble Bee Foods and two of its managers were charged Monday in the 2012 death of an employee who became trapped inside an industrial oven at the company’s Santa Fe Springs plant.

The company, along with Bumble Bee’s former Safety Manager Saul Florez, of Whittier, and Director of Plant Operations Angel Rodriguez, of Riverside,were charged with three felony counts each of willfully violating Occupational Safety & Health Administration worker safety rules leading to the death of 62-year-old Jose Melena, according to a news release from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Melena entered a 35-foot-long cylindrical oven, used to sterilize cans of tuna, as part of his job duties at Bumble Bee’s Santa Fe Springs plant on Oct. 11, 2012, according to the release.

Coworkers were unaware that Melena was inside the oven when they loaded multiple carts, collectively containing about 12,000 pounds of tuna, closed the front door and started the oven, according to the DA’s office.

During the two-hour heat sterilization process, the oven’s internal temperature rose to about 270 degrees, prosecutors said. Melena’s severely burned remains were discovered by a coworker. He had worked for the company for about six years.

“We take worker safety very seriously,” District Attorney Jackie Lacey said. “Although the Bumble Bee investigation began in 2012, this case represents our commitment to protecting workers from illegal — and, potentially, deadly — on-the-job practices.”

The defendants were expected to be arraigned on May 27.

If convicted as charged, Florez and Rodriguez face a maximum sentence of three years in state prison and/or a $250,000 fine, the release stated.

The San Diego-based Bumble Bee Foods faces a maximum fine of $1.5 million.