A high-ranking official in Michigan was set to go to trial for failures to stop the Flint Water Crisis. Nick Lyon, the state’s health director, was ordered Monday to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter after the deaths of two people from Legionnaires’ disease was linked to contaminated water in the predominantly African-American city.
Charges brought against Lyon include reported misconduct and a claim that he didn’t issue a “timely alert” about the outbreak, according to The Associated Press. The move to keep the outbreak a secret was “corrupt,” and lives could have been saved if the outbreak alert had been given, District Court Judge David Goggins said.
The judge’s decision was considered a substantial move forward for holding city and state officials accountable for the crisis.
“We’re not looking at today as a win or a loss,” said Andrea Bitely, a spokeswoman for State Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office. Schuette’s investigation was part of a bigger probe into how Flint water became contaminated when the city switched from the Detroit water system to the Flint River in 2014. “We’re looking at today as the first step and the next step for justice for the moms, dads and kids of Flint,” Bitely said.
The deaths of two men — 85-year-old Robert Skidmore and 83-year-old John Snyder — were the result of the gross negligence of Lyon, prosecutors said. Water drawn from the Flint River wasn’t properly treated to reduce corrosion, with lead leaking into aged pipes. Low chlorine levels were connected to the spreading of Legionella bacteria in the water, scientists said. The bacteria can cause severe pneumonia, which can be deadly.
There were at least 90 cases of Legionnaires’ in Genesee County, with 12 deaths having been reported. Lyon admitted that he knew cases had been reported many months before the outbreak was made public by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder in January 2016.
Fourteen other current or former state and city officials have been charged in the water crisis. Four have settled for misdemeanor plea deals, with other cases proceeding slowly.