Printing company could be criminally liable in pregnant worker's death

A judge ruled Tuesday that the owner and the manager of a printing company could be held criminally responsible for the death of a pregnant worker who was crushed by a large industrial machine nearly four years ago.

Margarita Mojica, 26, of Oakland, had been preparing a creasing and cutting machine at her job at Digital Pre-Press International, a Potrero Hill printing company, on Jan. 29, 2008, when it turned on as she was reaching inside it, killing her, prosecutors said. Mojica was four months pregnant at the time.

The 15,000-pound machine, a power press that operated in a “clamshell” manner, lacked proper safeguards when Mojica became entangled in it and her chest and head were crushed, according to a 2008 civil lawsuit filed by her family.

The company later agreed to a multimillion-dollar settlement of that suit, but prosecutors in 2010 filed criminal charges against the company and its owner Sanjay Sakhuja and pressroom manager Alick Yeung, alleging involuntary manslaughter and labor code violations.

“There was a general failure to not appreciate the dangers of this machine,” Judge Newton Lam said Tuesday after a preliminary hearing in the case. Lam said a jury could find that their behavior constituted criminal negligence.

No one told Sakhuja that additional safety guards and devices on the machine should have been in place, Sakhuja’s attorney Tony Brass said following the hearing.

“He relied on the people around him to keep him informed — including hiring only expert operators to be responsible for the operation of the machine and training on the machine,” Brass said.

A preliminary hearing is only to determine probable cause for a trial. Sakhuja, 53, and Yeung, 51, are out of custody and will be arraigned Jan. 19. They could each face up to four years and eight months in county jail, plus fines up to $250,000, if convicted. The company could face up to $1.5 million in fines.

aburack@sfexaminer.com

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