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UCLA Professor Agrees to Settlement With Prosecutors After Explosion That Killed Researcher

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A student walks near Royce Hall on the campus of UCLA on Monday, April 23, 2012. (Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

A UCLA chemistry professor on Friday accepted responsibility for laboratory conditions that resulted in a 2008 fire that killed a 23-year-old research associate who was conducting an experiment, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said. Terms of a settlement between the professor and prosecutors, including a $10,000 fine and community service, were also announced.

Patrick Harran, 44, acknowledged that he was the direct supervisor of “Sheri” Sangji on Dec. 29, 2008, “when an air-sensitive chemical burst into flames, severely burning her over nearly half her body,” according to a statement issued by the District Attorney’s Office.

Sangji was not wearing a protective lab coat at the time of the incident. She died 18 days later.

Speaking in court, Harran said he was “ultimately responsible for the safety of personnel in my laboratory,” the statement said.

As part of the settlement, Harran is required to teach an organic chemistry course to inner-city high school graduates preparing for college. He must teach the seven-week summer course for five years, according to prosecutors.

He is also required to pay the fine and complete 800 hours of non-teaching community service at UCLA Hospital or UCLA Health Services.

Criminal charges against the professor will remain pending for five years while he fulfills the conditions of the agreement, the District Attorney’s Office said. The four felony counts include willful violation of state labor codes to establish, implement and maintain an effective injury and illness prevention program; and failure to require body protection for employees exposed to hazardous substances.

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