Bumble Bee, Two Employees Charged in Horrific Death

May 1, 2015
Employee locked in an oven died in 2012.

Bumble Bee Foods LLC and two of its employees were charged April 27 with willfully violating worker safety rules, allegedly causing the 2012 death of an employee who became trapped inside an industrial oven at the company’s Santa Fe Springs, Calif., plant.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney said Jose Melena, 62, on Oct. 11, 2012 entered a 35-ft.-long cylindrical oven to make repairs at Bumble Bee’s Santa Fe Springs plant. The oven is used to sterilize cans of tuna. (Sounds like a retort.)

Coworkers were unaware that Melena was inside the oven when they loaded multiple carts, altogether containing about 12,000 lbs. of tuna, closed the door and started the oven. The victim was trapped in the back of the super-heated, pressurized steam cooker. During the two-hour heat sterilization process, the oven's temperature rose to about 270 degrees. Melena’s severely burned remains were discovered by a coworker, prosecutors said. Melena worked for the company for about six years.

The San Diego-based company, a former safety manager and the director of plant operations were each charged with three felony counts of committing an occupational safety and health violation that caused a death, according to the district attorney’s office.

The defendants are expected to be arraigned on May 27. If convicted as charged, the two men face a maximum sentence of three years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine, and Bumble Bee could be fined $1.5 million.

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