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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California
Southern California

Arraignment Postponed for Teacher Charged in Deadly UCLA Lab Fire

Dr. Patrick Harran and the UCLA Board of Regents has to wait until March 7th for an arraignment for charges connected to the fiery death of Sheri Sangji in 2008.

The arraignment for Dr. Patrick Harran and the UCLA Board of Regents for felony charges in connection to the death of a research assistant in 2008 has been postponed until March 7th.

UCLA Campus (Photo courtesy AP)
UCLA Campus (Photo courtesy AP)

Each is charged with 3 counts of willful violation of occupational health and safety standards that resulted in the death of 23 year old Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji.  If convicted, Harran stands to serve 4 ½ years in prison, and the UCLA Board of Regents could be slammed with $4.5 million in fines.

Though University officials have condemned the charges as “unwarranted” and even “appalling,” the findings of an extensive investigation by California Division of Occupational Safety and Health indicates otherwise.

On December, 29th 2008, Sangji was conducting research in the UCLA Organic Chemistry Lab when the syringe of t-butyl lithium she was transferring broke open in her hands. The 1.8 ounces of fluid which spilled on Sangji immediately combusted, engulfing her hands and torso in flames.

The flames were quelled by a present researcher, but the damage was extensive. Nearly half of Sangji’s body was covered in second and third degree burns. She died as a result of these injuries 18 days later.

While Harran has since called the reaction Sangji was performing “standardized protocol,” it appears he interprets this term liberally, since Sangji was woefully lacking in training and safety procedures, which are also typically considered “standardized protocol.”

Sangji was not wearing a lab coat or any other protective garments at the time of the incident, regardless of the specific instructions on the label of the t-butyl lithium dictating “Spontaneously flammable in air… Wear suitable protective clothing, gloves, and eye/face protection.”

The investigation revealed that Harran was aware that his employees did not customarily wear lab coats. Furthermore, investigators determined that Sangji was not following proper procedures due to a lack in basic training and chemical safety training.

Kevin Reed, UCLA vice chancellor for legal affairs clarified on this account, “It was not as if UCLA found a newbie who didn’t know what she was doing and put her in a lab with no regard to the consequences.” “She was a trained chemist.” He said.

This much is true, Sangji graduated from Pomona College in Claremont, California in May 2008 with a B.A. in Chemistry. She was hired by UCLA as a Research Associate in the Organic Chemistry Department in October, and had worked under Harran for about three months before the accident.

Sangji had performed a similar experiment early in her time at UCLA with supervision, however on December 29th she was working alone and on a three times larger scale.

Investigations revealed that this is not the first person to sustain significant injuries due to negligent safety and training procedures at UCLA – there were two similar incidents with students prior to Sangji’s death.

The Los Angeles Times reports that since the investigation, the labs at UCLA have upped their game in safety and training and established a Center for Lab Safety.

The Sangji family has released a statement saying, “No one can erase the agony and suffering Sheri endured, but by allowing a jury to debate the facts of the case, you can bring about accountability and justice, and thereby save other innocent lives.”

It is all up to that jury now on March 7th, when the arraignment for Harran and the UCLA Board of Regents will occur.


I feel for her family.

Hey Elliot, Glad to see that you found Avery House (which is also an undergraduate house) to be otdomacacing . You found Upper Fish Bowl ! Nice blog.-Freshman living in Avery

Check Harran's safety record with Ted West, Head of Fire Safety at UTSW in Dallas. Might see a pattern

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