D.A. Charges Bumble Bee Tuna After Worker Baked to Death in Industrial Oven

UPDATE at 5:42 p.m., Monday, April 27, 2015: Bumble Bee Foods says it disagrees with the charges and that it's weighing its options. More below.

On Oct. 11, 2012, Bumble Bee Foods worker Jose Melena entered an industrial oven at the company's Santa Fe Springs plant in order to load it with racks of tuna cans.

The oven was used to sterilize the products, and part of the 62-year-old's job was to get those cans properly placed in the 35-foot cylindrical oven. That day co-workers began loading cans of their own, unaware that Melena was deep inside, prosecutors said.

They loaded their 12,000 cans, closed the door, and fired up the massive appliance, they said. It hit 270 degrees and stayed there for nearly two hours.

After the process was completed, Melena's burned remains were discovered by a co-worker, authorities said.

Today the L.A. County District Attorney's Office announced that Bumble Bee Foods and two supervisors were charged with suspicion of willfully violating worker safety rules.

In a statement, the D.A.'s office said the two are facing "three felony counts each of an Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) violation causing death."

The defendants include former safety manager Saul Florez as well as the company's director of plant operations, Angel Rodriguez.

District Attorney Jackie Lacey:

We take worker safety very seriously. 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. Although the Bumble Bee investigation began in 2012, this case represents our commitment to protecting workers from illegal - and, potentially, deadly - on-the-job practices.

We reached out to Bumble Bee for its response but had yet to hear back. The San Diego-based company was acquired last year by Thai Union Frozen Products. 

The defendants were due in court May 27. 

The D.A.'s office says Florez, who's from Whittier, and Rodriguez, who's from Riverside, could get three years behind bars and a $250,000 fine if they're successfully convicted.

Bumble Bee could be fined as much as $1.5 million, prosecutors said. The company claims to generate annual sales of $1 billion.

UPDATE at 5:42 p.m., Monday, April 27, 2015: Bumble Bee Foods sent us this statement.

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.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow L.A. Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.


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