Flint Water Crisis: Health Director to Face Trial for Manslaughter
By Ron Fonger
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon will stand trial on charges he caused the deaths of two Genesee County men during the Flint water crisis.
Genesee District Judge David Goggins bound Lyon's case over to Genesee Circuit Court for trial on two counts of involuntary manslaughter for the deaths of Robert Skidmore and John Snyder, who prosecutors say died as a result of Legionnaires' disease, and one count of misconduct in office.
He also faces one misdemeanor count of willful neglect of duty.
Lyon sat quietly, his wife watching in the courtroom, as Goggins read his decision, which comes 14 months after his arraignment.
The decision means the judge found there is probable cause to believe involuntary manslaughter was committed against Skidmore and Snyder and that Lyon, 49, committed the crimes.
Monday's ruling marks the first time a judge has weighed in on the evidence against a city or state worker charged with criminal wrongdoing related to the water crisis.
It also involves the highest-ranking of 15 current and former city and state government officials charged with criminal wrongdoing in Flint.
Lyon, a member of Gov. Rick Snyder's cabinet, has remained on the job while facing the charges against him.
One other case was bound over to Genesee Circuit Court after former Flint emergency manager Gerald Ambrose waived his preliminary examination. That case is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing in eight days.
Four of 15 defendants have already reached plea agreements with prosecutors. Nine other cases are still pending in District Court.
In the Lyon case, special prosecutor Todd Flood alleged the director failed to protect the public when he could have mandated a change in the city's water source because of the threat to the public's health.
Two university studies have pointed to Flint's water as the likely trigger of outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease during the time the city used the Flint River as its water source. DHHS has maintained that exposure to McLaren-Flint hospital -- not Flint water -- is the only explanation for the surge in cases here.
Prosecutors also claimed Lyon tried to cover up the source of the outbreaks by repeatedly attempting to prevent researchers from looking into its cause.
Attorneys for the DHHS director told Goggins there was "zero proof that there was anything Director Lyon did or did not do" that actually caused the deaths of Skidmore and Snyder.
Expert witnesses for Lyon also testified that the two men likely died of other causes and unsuccessfully tried to strike the testimony of a cardiologist who tied the deaths to Legionnaires'.
Designed to save money, the 2014 decision to change the city's water source was approved and carried out by emergency managers appointed by Snyder.
Lyon has said he learned of an initial surge in Legionnaires' cases in Genesee County a full year before sharing information about outbreaks of the disease directly with the governor in January 2016.
Public records have shown other DHHS officials were aware of a rapid rise in Legionnaires' cases, at least 12 of which proved fatal, even earlier than the director as well as suspicions that the spread was tied to the change of Flint's water source.
In addition to doctors, witnesses at Lyon's preliminary exam included current and former DHHS employees and Legionnaires' researchers from Wayne State University.
One WSU professor -- Paul Kilgore -- testified in November that Lyon told him during a 2016 meeting about Flint water, "We can't save everyone, everyone has to die of something' ... or something similar to that."
(c)2018 The Flint Journal, Mich.