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UCLA professor in court on charges stemming from fatal lab fire

January 3, 2012 |  6:45 pm

Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji

UCLA chemistry professor Patrick Harran was released on his own recognizance Tuesday after surrendering on felony charges stemming from a fatal laboratory fire three years ago.

Harran, 42, was out of town last week when the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office charged him and the University of California regents with three counts each of willfully violating occupational health and safety standards, resulting in the death of staff research assistant Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji.

Sangji, 23, was severely burned on Dec. 29, 2008, when air-sensitive chemicals burst into flames during an experiment and ignited her clothing. Sangji, who was not wearing a protective lab coat, died 18 days later.

The regents and Harran, a prominent researcher who joined the UCLA faculty in July 2008, are accused of failing to correct unsafe work conditions in a timely manner, to require clothing appropriate for the work being done and to provide proper chemical safety training.

An arrest warrant issued last week for Harran was withdrawn after a brief appearance in L.A. County Superior Court on Tuesday, said his attorney, Thomas O’Brien. Harran will be arraigned Feb. 2 and faces up to 4 1/2 years in prison if convicted.

UCLA officials have called the charges "outrageous" and said that Sangji’s death was a tragic accident.

The regents could be fined up to $1.5 million on each of the three counts.


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Photo: Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji  Credit: Naveen Sangji