Bumble Bee Busted After a Worker Was Baked to Death

Bumble Bee Foods is faced with the state's largest known workplace violations settlement — $6 million — after one of its workers was accidentally locked in an industrial oven and baked to death alongside 12,000 cans of tuna.

After the 270-degree, nearly two-hour tuna cooking process was completed, a worker discovered the remains of 62-year-old Jose Melena, authorities said. It happened at a Bumble Bee facility in Santa Fe Springs on Oct. 11, 2012.

Today the L.A. County District Attorney's office stated that the settlement it worked out with Bumble Bee "is the largest known payout in a California criminal prosecution of workplace safety violations involving a single victim."

When Bumble Bee and two of its supervisors were charged with "suspicion of willfully violating worker-safety rules," in April, the company was defiant.

"We disagree with and are disappointed by the charges," it said in a statement. Today it looks like all of the defendants caved. Under this settlement, Bumble Bee will have to admit guilt, prosecutors said.

The DA's office says San Diego–based Bumble Bee will also pay $3 million to install automated ovens that will not require workers to step inside them. 

The family of Melena will get $1.5 million in restitution from the company, prosecutors said.

And the District Attorney's Environmental Enforcement Fund will get its cut — $750,000 from Bumble Bee "for the investigation and prosecution of Occupational Safety and Health Administration criminal cases and for improving enforcement of workplace safety and compliance rules," the D.A.'s office states.

Add to that another $750,000 in fines, penalties and court costs for Bumble Bee.

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The company will have to train managers about workplace safety rules and install cameras inside the ovens. If all goes well, the company will be allowed to plead guilty to "willful failure to implement and maintain an effective safety program," a misdemeanor, in 18 months, the DA's office says.

Here's the damage for the other defendants, according to the office:

Bumble Bee's director of plant operations Angel Rodriguez of Riverside, also charged in the case, has agreed to do 320 hours of community service, pay approximately $11,400 in fines and penalty assessments, and take classes on lockout tagout and confined-space rules. If Rodriguez complies with the agreed-upon conditions, in 18 months he will be allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor at sentencing.

Co-defendant Saul Florez of Whittier, Bumble Bee's former safety manager, pleaded guilty today to a felony count of willfully violating lockout tagout rules and proximately causing the victim's death. He was immediately sentenced to three years of formal probation. Florez was ordered to complete 30 days of community labor and take classes on lockout tagout and confined spaces.

Florez must additionally pay about $19,000 in fines and penalty assessments. In 18 months, if Florez complies with the terms and conditions of the plea agreement, he may be eligible to have his felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor.

Both men are required to make public statements conceding guilt for their respective roles in the victim's death, under the terms of the plea.  


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