Tuna com­pany agrees to US$6 mil­lion set­tle­ment in worker oven death


Bum­ble Bee Foods agreed to pay US$6 mil­lion to set­tle crim­i­nal charges Wed­nes­day in the death of a worker who was cooked in an oven with tons of tuna.

Dis­trict At­tor­ney Jackie Lacey said the set­tle­ment is the largest pay­out in a Cal­i­for­nia work­place­vi­o­la­tion death.

Jose Melena, 62, died three years ago in a 270-de­gree Fahren- heit oven at the seafood com­pany’s Santa Fe Springs, Cal­i­for­nia, plant af­ter a co-worker mis­tak­enly be­lieved he was in the bath­room and filled a pres­sure cooker with six tons of canned tuna.

“This is the worst cir­cum­stances of death I have ever, ever wit­nessed,” said Deputy Dis­trict At­tor­ney Hoon Chun, who noted he had tried more than 40 mur­der cases over two decades. “I think any per­son would pre­fer to be — if they had to die some way — would pre­fer to be shot or stabbed than to be slowly cooked in an oven. “

Bum­ble Bee, its plant Oper­a­tions Di­rec­tor An­gel Ro­driguez and for­mer safety man­ager Saul Florez had each been charged with three counts of vi­o­lat­ing Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety & Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion rules that caused a death.

Un­der the agree­ment, Bum­ble Bee will be plead guilty to a mis­de­meanor of will­fully fail­ing to have an ef­fec­tive safety pro­gram in Jan­uary 2017 if it com­pletes sev­eral safety mea­sures that in­clude up­grad­ing ovens so work­ers don’t get trapped in­side and pro­vid­ing worker train­ing.

“We will never for­get the un­fath­omable loss of our col­league Jose Melena and we are com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing that em­ployee safety re­mains a top pri­or­ity at all our fa­cil­i­ties,” the San Diego-based com­pany said in a state­ment.

Florez, 42, of Whit­tier was sen­tenced to three years of pro­ba­tion and will face fines and penal­ties of about US$19,000 af­ter plead­ing guilty to a sin­gle felony count of vi­o­lat­ing a work­place safety rule that caused a death.

Ro­driguez, 63, of River­side, agreed to plead guilty to a mis­de­meanor in 18 months and pay about US$11,000 af­ter he com­pletes 320 hours of com­mu­nity ser­vice and worker safety cour­ses.

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