SANTA FE SPRINGS >> Tuna manufacturer Bumble Bee Foods LLC, an employee and a former employee pleaded not guilty Wednesday to felony charges related to the death of a worker who was cooked to death inside an industrial oven at the company’s Santa Fe Springs plant, authorities said.
Bumble Bee Foods LLC, along with former safety manager Saul Florez, 47, of Whittier and director of plant operations Angel Rodriguez, 63, were each charged last month with three felony counts of willful violation of safety rules in connection with the Oct. 11, 2012 industrial mishap at the plant, 13100 Arctic Circle.
Killed was 62-year-old father of six Jose Melena of Wilmington, who became trapped and cooked to death in a massive industrial oven used to sterilize cans of tuna, officials said.
Melena was working inside the cylindrical, 35-foot-long oven when another employee assumed Melena had gone to the restroom, according to OSHA’s report.
“Coworkers were unaware that Melena was inside the oven when they loaded multiple carts, collectively containing about 12,000 pounds of tuna, closed the front door and started the oven,” Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said in a written statement. “The victim inadvertently became trapped in the back of the super-heated, pressurized steam cooker.”
Hours later, after the oven had been heated to more than 270 degrees, coworkers noticed Melena was missing and ultimately discovered his badly burned remains inside the oven, officials said.
The defendants are due back in Los Angeles Superior Court July 14 for a motions hearing, district attorney’s Office spokesman Greg Risling said.
The California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupational Safety and Health levied nearly $74,000 in fines against Bubble Bee Foods for safety violations the following year.
If convicted as charged, Florez and Rodriguez each face up to three years in prison, as well as fines of up to $250,000. San Diego-based Bumble Bee Foods could face a fine of up to $1.5 million.
PHOTOS: [TOP] – Jose Melena, 62, of Wilmington was a Bumble Bee Foods workerkilled in when he accidentally became trapped inside an industrial oven at the company’s Santa Fe Springs plant on Oct. 11, 2014. (Courtesy) [BELOW] – The front of Bumble Bee Foods LLC in Santa Fe Springs on Friday October 12, 2012. The plant was the site of an insustrial accident the day before in which a 62-year-old employee died after becoming trapped inside an industrial oven.
(File: SGVN/Staff Photo by Keth Durflinger)