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Bumble Bee Foods, Plant Managers Charged With Worker's Death Inside Sterilization Oven

SANTA FE SPRINGS ( — Bumble Bee Foods and two others were charged with causing the 2012 death of an employee who became trapped inside an industrial oven at the company's Santa Fe Springs plant, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office announced Monday.

Saul Florez, 42, of Whittier, Bumble Bee's former safety manager, and Angel Rodriguez, 63, of Riverside, the company's director of plant operations, and Bumble Bee Foods LLC were charged with three felony counts each of Occupational Safety & Health Administration violation causing death. The defendants are scheduled to be arraigned on May 27.

"We take worker safety very seriously," District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement. "For the past year, prosecutors and investigators from my office have begun rolling out to major industrial incidents involving serious worker injuries and death. Our goal is to enhance the criminal prosecution of workplace safety violations."

The charges concern the Oct. 11, 2012 death of Jose Melena, 62, of Wilmington, who entered a 35-foot-long cylindrical oven, which is used to sterilize cans of tuna, as part of his job duties at the Santa Fe Springs plant. Prosecutors say coworkers were unaware that Melena was inside the oven when they loaded 12,000 pounds of tuna on several carts, closed the front door and started the oven.

Melena, who had worked for the company for about six years, became trapped in the back of the super-heated, pressurized steam cooker, where the temperature rose to about 270 degrees during the two-hour sterilization process. His severely burned remains were discovered by a coworker.

If convicted as charged, Florez and Rodriguez face a maximum sentence of three years in state prison and/or a $250,000 fine. Bumble Bee Foods, which is based in San Diego, faces a maximum fine of $1.5 million.

In a statement, Bumble Bee said, "we remain devastated by the loss of our colleague Jose Melena in the tragic accident that occurred at our Santa Fe Springs plant in October 2012.  Bumble Bee cooperated fully with Cal-OSHA in its post-accident investigation, which found no willful violations related to the accident.

"We disagree with and are disappointed by the charges filed by the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office. We are currently exploring all options with respect to those charges and will proceed in the manner that best serves the needs of the Melena family, our employees and the Company.

"Safety has always been and will always be a top priority at our facilities. Since the 2012 accident, we have made our safety program even more robust, and we remain steadfast in our commitment to ensuring the safest possible workplace for our employees."

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