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UC regents dropped from deadly lab accident case
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A judge Friday dropped criminal charges against University of California regents stemming from a 2008 UCLA lab accident in which a worker died after suffering severe burns.

Instead, the court approved a 38-page agreement in which the Board of Regents arranged to take "comprehensive corrective safety measures" and establish a $500,000 scholarship in the name of the lab assistant who was killed, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said in a statement.

The regents could have faced millions of dollars in fines if convicted of three counts of willfully violating occupational health and safety standards causing death.

The criminal case continues against UCLA chemistry professor Patrick Harran. He faces up to 4 1/2 years in prison if convicted of all three felony counts.

UCLA Chancellor Gene W. Block called the charges against Harran "unwarranted" and said the university and the regents continue to stand by him.

"We will continue to fully provide for his defense," he said, adding that Harran is "a valued and respected member of the faculty."

Harran's 23-year-old research assistant, Sheharbano Sangji, suffered burns over nearly half her body in the Dec. 29, 2008, accident at the UCLA organic chemistry laboratory.

She was transferring a chemical from one sealed container to another when a plastic syringe came apart in her hands and the chemical spilled, igniting on contact with the air.

Sangji was not wearing a protective lab coat, and her sweater caught fire and melted onto her skin. She died 18 days later.

In a 2009 report, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health concluded that the death could have been avoided if Harran had properly trained Sangji and assured that she wore appropriate clothing.

The report, obtained by the Los Angeles Times, also said that UCLA repeatedly had failed to address previous safety lapses.

University officials contended that Sangji was well-trained and chose not to use available protective gear. In disputing the criminal charges, they said a CalOSHA investigation resulted in nearly $32,000 in fines but no findings of intentional or willful violations.

Harran's attorney, Thomas O'Brien, said at the time that the report contained "numerous misstatements."

After Sangji's death, UCLA instituted more rigorous lab inspections, issued more fire-resistant lab coats, enhanced training in the use of air-sensitive chemicals and established a Center for Lab Safety.

"We realized it was critical that we do everything possible to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again — and that we help spread the message of lab safety throughout labs worldwide," Block said Friday.

Under the agreement with prosecutors, regents agreed to establish a $500,000 scholarship in Sangji's name for the study of environmental law at UC Berkeley.

Block called Sangji's death "a terrible day for everyone at UCLA and devastating for the Sangji family."