The Los Angeles County district attorney and UCLA organic chemistry professor Patrick Harran entered a deferred prosecution agreement today that will result in a dismissal of all charges against Harran in connection with a 2008 campus lab accident that took the life of staff research associate Sheri Sangji.
"No words can express the sympathy I have for Sheri’s loved ones. As a father myself, I cannot imagine the pain they have and will continue to endure," Harran told the court. "What happened to Sheri in my laboratory was absolutely horrible — and she was too young, too talented and had too bright a future for anyone to accept it … I can only hope that, if not today, perhaps someday they can accept my deepest condolences and sympathies for their loss."
Under the terms of the agreement, Harran will perform 800 hours of community service to UCLA Health Sciences over the next five years. He will also speak to incoming UCLA students majoring in chemistry or biological sciences about the importance of lab safety and will design and teach an organic chemistry preparatory course each summer for the South Central Scholars, a volunteer organization that works to motivate inner-city high school students to attend college.
Harran was not required to plead guilty to any of the charges, but he acknowledged his role as Sangji’s supervisor. He and UCLA have agreed not to deny responsibility for the conditions under which the laboratory was operated at the time of the accident. If Harran successfully completes his community service obligations and no further material health or safety violations occur in his lab for a period of five years, the case will be dismissed with prejudice.
In July 2012, the district attorney agreed to dismiss all charges against the University of California Board of Regents in connection with the accident. The DA originally charged the regents and Harran with violations of the state labor code in December 2011.
UCLA and Harran began working to enhance the university’s lab safety programs immediately after the December 2008 accident, increasing the number of inspections, strengthening policies on the required use of personal protective equipment and developing a hazard-assessment tool that labs must update annually or whenever conditions change. Dozens of universities, regulatory agencies, private research operations and trade organizations have sought detailed information about UCLA's lab safety programs and requested presentations by campus personnel.
In addition, the UC Center for Laboratory Safety was established in 2011 with the mission of improving laboratory safety and implementing best safety practices. The center — believed to be the first of its kind in the country — has held several workshops, attracting representatives of federal funding agencies and regulators, private companies, and universities throughout the world. The nationally recognized center has partnered with other organizations, like the Nature Publishing Group, to survey lab workers on their safety practices and attitudes.