Bumble Bee Pleads Guilty in Worker's Gruesome Oven Death

Jose Melena was trapped inside an oven in 2012
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 26, 2017 2:47 PM CST
This Oct. 15, 2012 file photo shows the front of the Bumble Bee tuna processing plant in Santa Fe Springs, Calif.   (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

(Newser) – As charges related to the 2012 death of a worker in a Bumble Bee Foods oven began to wrap up Wednesday, a prosecutor called the case "the worst circumstances of death I have ever, ever witnessed." Bumble Bee Foods and Angel Rodriguez, director of plant operations at the time of the accident, each pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor Labor Code violation, MyNewsLA reports. Jose Melena, 62, had gone into a 35-foot-long cylindrical oven to make repairs when co-workers, unaware he was in the oven, trapped him inside when they loaded 12,000 pounds of canned tuna and then turned the oven on for a two-hour sterilization process. "I think any person would prefer to be, if they had to die some way … to be shot or stabbed than to be slowly cooked to death in an oven," the deputy DA said.

Bumble Bee was hit with felony charges after the accident, and ultimately settled for $6 million—more than $3 million to modernize equipment at the Santa Fe Springs facility where the accident occurred, $1.5 million to Melena's family, $750,000 to the Los Angeles County DA's Office's Environmental Enforcement Fund, and $750,000 in fines, penalties, and court fees. The felony counts against the company and Rodriguez were reduced to misdemeanor counts, and guilty pleas were anticipated under the settlement. The plant's former safety manager was also hit with a felony count that was later reduced to a misdemeanor; he completed community service and occupational safety courses and pleaded guilty in August 2015. (Read more accidental death stories.)

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