Michigan official faces manslaughter trial over Flint deaths


FLINT, Mich. (AP) — A judge on Monday ordered Michigan’s health director to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter in two deaths linked to Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area, the highest-ranking official to face criminal charges as a result of the city’s tainted water scandal.

Nick Lyon is accused of failing to issue a timely alert about the outbreak. District Court Judge David Goggins said deaths likely could have been prevented if the outbreak had been publicly known. He said keeping the public in the dark was “corrupt.”

Goggins found probable cause for a trial in Genesee County court, a legal standard that isn’t as high as beyond a reasonable doubt. Lyon also faces a charge of misconduct in office.

When the judge announced his decision, a woman in the gallery said, “Yes, yes, yes.”

“It’s a long way from over,” Lyon told The Associated Press. He declined further comment.

Some experts have blamed Legionnaires’ on Flint’s water, which wasn’t properly treated when it was drawn from the Flint River in 2014 and 2015. Legionella bacteria can emerge through misting and cooling systems, triggering a severe form of pneumonia, especially in people with weakened immune systems.

At least 90 cases of Legionnaires’ occurred in Genesee County, including 12 deaths. More than half of the people had a common thread: They spent time at McLaren Hospital, which was on the Flint water system.

The outbreak was announced by Gov. Rick Snyder and Lyon in January 2016, although Lyon concedes that he knew that cases were being reported many months earlier. He is director of the Health and Human Services Department.

Nonetheless, he denies wrongdoing. Lyon’s attorneys said there was much speculation about the exact cause of Legionnaires’ and not enough solid information to share earlier with the public.

The investigation by the state attorney general’s office is part of a larger probe into how Flint’s water system became contaminated when the city used Flint River water for 18 months. The water wasn’t treated to reduce corrosion. As a result, lead leached from old pipes.

An additional 14 current or former state and local officials have been charged with crimes, either related to Legionnaires’ or lead in the water. Four agreed to misdemeanor plea deals; the other cases are moving slowly.

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