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Investigator Baudendistel Testifies in Second Day of Harran Hearing

Brian Baudendistel, the California state investigator who wrote a damning report on the events leading to fire that fatally injured Sheri Sangji, testified on 19 November during the second day of the hearing to determine whether University of California-Los Angeles chemistry professor Patrick Harran will stand trial on felony charges arising from Sangji’s death. Harran has pleaded not guilty to charges of felony violations of occupational safety laws leading to the fatality.  

Baudendistel provided details about the inadequate attempts of a postdoc from China, who spoke no English and had received no safety training in Harran’s lab, to douse the flames that had engulfed Sangji’s clothing, according to the Contra Costa Times. Harran’s lawyers had previously attempted to disqualify Baudendistel, a Senior Special Investigator at the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, as a witness on the grounds that he had been involved in a murder while a teenager. The judge rejected this tactic, which the Los Angeles Times has termed “bizarre.” 

The defense had good reason to want Baudendistel struck from the prosecution’s witness list. His highly detailed, 44,000 word technical report on the incident and the procedures and practices in Harran’s lab concluded with this sentence: “If Dr. Harran had utilized standard operating procedure as required and would have properly trained Victim Sangji, and assured that clothing appropriate
for the work was worn to protect her from inadvertent exposure to tert-Butyl lithium, Victim Sangji’s death would have been prevented.”

Baudendistel’s testimony resumes at 1:30 pm Pacific Time on 20 November. For more detail, see Jylian Kemsley and Michael Torrice’s extensive coverage at the C&EN blog, The Safety Zone.