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Bumble Bee Foods To Pay $6 Million Over Employee Cooked Alive In Oven

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Bumble Bee Foods will have to pay out $6 million over the gruesome death of an employee, who was cooked alive in an industrial oven in their plant almost three years ago.

This settlement is the largest payout ever made in California over a criminal prosecution involving workplace safety violations with a single person, the L.A. County District Attorney's office said in a statement.

In 2012, Jose Melena, 62, was burned alive in a Santa Fe Springs plant run by Bumble Bee Foods LLC. Prosecutors say Melena entered a 35-foot-long oven, a pressurized steam cooker that sterilizes the tuna at 270 degrees in a 2-hour process. Coworkers had no idea he was inside while they loaded 12,000 pounds of fish, closed the door and started the oven. The victim got trapped inside and was cooked to death. A coworker found Melena's severely burned remains were in the oven. Melena was a father of six and had worked for the company for six years.

Two other employees were charged in Melena's death in April. The company's former safety manager Saul Florez pleaded guilty for willfully violating lockout tagout rules, which are safeguards to ensure the safety of employees. Florez was sentenced to three years of formal probation, 30 days of community labor, $19,000 in fines, and has to take classes on lockout tagouts. Bumble Bee's Director of Plant Operations Angel Rodriguez has to do 320 hours of community service, pay about $11,400 in fines, and is also required to take lockout tagout classes.

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The settlement requires that Bumble Bee Foods use $3 million to replace their outdated machines so their employees will never have to go inside the steam cookers again, pay $1.5 million in restitution to the Melena's family, pay $750,000 in fines, penalties and court costs, and $750,000 to the District Attorney's Environmental Enforcement Fund for the investigation and prosecution of the case. They will also have to install video cameras in their ovens, and managers and workers will be required to get safety training.

If they comply with all the court's demands, then Bumble Bee Foods can plead guilty to a misdemeanor of willfully failing to implement and maintain an effective safety program. They will then also have to make a public statement admitting their guilt. Same goes for Florez and Rodriguez.