Aug. 21 (UPI) — A Michigan judge on Monday ordered the state’s health director to stand trial on involuntary manslaughter charges over two deaths linked to a water crisis in Flint.
Nick Lyon is the highest-ranking state official to face charges related to the city’s tainted water supply, which wasn’t properly treated when officials decided to draw from the Flint River in April 2014, switching from its previous source of Lake Huron.
In addition to causing lead poisoning in children, the improperly treated water supply led to an outbreak of Legionnaires disease in Flint, killing Robert Skidmore and John Snyder. Lyon was charged in June 2017 for the two deaths as well as a felony count of misconduct in office.
The charging document said Lyon showed “gross negligence” when he didn’t alert the public about the Legionnaires outbreak until a year after he became aware of it.
He took “steps to suppress information illustrating obvious and apparent harms that were likely to result in serious injury,” the document said. “Defendant Lyon willfully disregarded the deadly nature of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak.”
Prosecutors say Lyon instructed an official to stop an analysis that would help determine the crisis’ cause.
“I find this behavior … corrupt,” 67th District Court Judge David Goggins said Monday when ordering the trial.
Lyon could face 15 years in prison if convicted of involuntary manslaughter. The misconduct charge carries a possible five-year sentence.
Gov. Rick Snyder named Lyon to the position in April 10, 2015, when he created a new agency that merged the Department of Human Services and Michigan Department of Community Health. Lyon had led the latter department.
Lyon is one of 15 current and former city and state officials facing charges for criminal wrongdoing in the Flint water scandal.