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5 charged with involuntary manslaughter in Flint water probe

Jun 14, 2017

The head of the Michigan health department is one of the five charged with involuntary manslaughter with regard to their involvement in the Flint water crisis.

Nick Lyon, head of the Department of Health and Human Services, is charged with involuntary manslaughter for failing to alert the public about an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in the Flint area.

Investigators say Lyon knew about the outbreak nearly one year before he informed the public.

The disease has been linked by some experts to poor water quality in 2014-15.

(Read more: A recent history of Legionnaires’ disease in Michigan)

Others charged with involuntary manslaughter are:

  • Darnell Earley, former Flint Emergency Manager
  • Howard Croft, former Director of Public Works in Flint
  • Liane Shekter-Smith, former Chief of the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance
  • Stephen Busch, former supervisor of the Lansing District Office, Community Water Supply Program, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality

Charges were read Wednesday in a Flint court.

Schuette said all manslaughter charges stem from the death of Robert Skidmore. More from their press release:

All defendants charged with involuntary manslaughter are charged in relation to the death of Robert Skidmore, 85, of Mt. Morris, Michigan. Skidmore died of Legionnaires’ disease after many others had been diagnosed with the illness, yet no public outbreak notice had been issued. The charges allege failure to notify and lack of action to stop the outbreak allowed the disease to continue its spread through Flint’s water system.

Dr. Eden Wells, the state's chief medical officer, has also been charged with obstruction of justice - a felony - and lying to a police officer – a misdemeanor.

More from the AG Schuette’s office:

During the course of the investigation of the Flint Water Crisis, it is alleged that Wells attempted to withhold funding for programs designed to help the victims of the crisis, and then lied to an investigator about material facts related to the investigation.

Lyon and Wells are the highest-ranking officials to be charged in the state attorney general's investigation.

To date, Schuette's investigation into the Flint water crisis has resulted in 51 criminal charges filed against 15 current and former state and local officials.

Governor Rick Snyder released a statement in support of Lyon and Wells:

Nick Lyon has been a strong leader at the Department of Health and Human Services for the past several years and remains completely committed to Flint's recovery. Director Lyon and Dr. Eden Wells, like every other person who has been charged with a crime by Bill Schuette, are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Snyder added, "Director Lyon and Dr. Wells have been and continue to be instrumental in Flint's recovery. They have my full faith and confidence, and will remain on duty at DHHS."

Flint began using water from the Flint River in 2014 but didn't treat it to reduce corrosion. Lead from old plumbing leached into the water system.

There's been a lot of debate about the source of the Legionnaires' outbreak in Genesee County during that time. The state has maintained that outbreak was mostly tied to McLaren Hospital. Investigators say they believe the outbreak was a result of the water switch.

Legionnaires' is a type of pneumonia caused by bacteria that thrive in warm water and infect the lungs when droplets of water are breathed in.

*This post was last updated at 12:05 a.m.