Courtesy of the Sangji family Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji had been working as a UCLA research associate for less than three months when she accidentally spilled a spontaneously combustible chemical and severely burned nearly half of her body. She died 18 days later.
A landmark criminal case involving the 2009 death of a young UCLA laboratory researcher was resolved in part today after the University of California Board of Regents agreed to adopt a series of safety measures and establish a scholarship in the researcher’s name.
Sheharbano "Sheri" Sangji, 23, was badly burned in a fire in UCLA’s Molecular Sciences Building on Dec. 29, 2008. She died 18 days later.
Last December, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office filed a felony complaint against UCLA chemistry professor Patrick Harran and the UC regents, alleging that they had failed to train and provide protective gear to Sangji, who at the time of the accident was handling an extremely volatile chemical that combusts upon contact with air.
This story is a joint project with the Center for Public Integrity.
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The deal with the regents was announced by the district attorney. In a 38-page settlement agreement, the regents “acknowledge and accept responsibility for the conditions under which the laboratory was operated on December 29, 2008.”
The regents agreed to establish a $500,000 scholarship in Sangji’s name at UC Berkeley for the study of environmental law – a discipline Sangji likely would have pursued. They also agreed to implement a number of safety measures. Among them: requiring all of UCLA’s principal investigators, such as Harran, and lab employees to complete a safety training program within 60 days.
The case against Harran, who faces up to 4½ years in jail, continues. His arraignment in Los Angeles County Superior Court was postponed until Sept. 5.
In an email today, Sangji’s sister, Naveen, wrote: “UCLA and the Regents have finally admitted that they wronged Sheri terribly by accepting responsibility for their repeated, deliberate, unlawful behavior that led to the horrific death of a 23-year-old girl. Our family's pain will not diminish, but our hope, of course, is that no one else has to suffer the way Sheri did, and that such tragedies are avoided in the future.”
Regarding Harran, she wrote, “We have asked for justice to be delivered in a fair and transparent process, and now we leave it up to the court, and a jury, to provide that justice.”
Morris is a senior reporter at the Center for Public Integrity. This story is a joint project with the Center for Investigative Reporting.