Flint Water Plant Tower

(credit: George Fox/WWJ)

Michigan's Medical Chief To Stand Trial For Manslaughter In Flint Water Crisis

December 07, 2018 - 11:44 am

FLINT (WWJ/AP) - The state's chief medical executive will stand trial on involuntary manslaughter and other charges related to the Flint water crisis.

 A Genesee County District Court judge on Friday ordered Dr. Eden Wells to stand trial for the death of a man who died from Legionnaires' disease.

Prosecutors say Wells was responsible for John Snyder's death. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette charged Wells last year with obstruction of justice and lying to the police. He later added the manslaughter charge.

Five other people, including state Health Director Nick Lyon, have also been charged with involuntary manslaughter tied to an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in the Flint area. Schuette says key officials knew about a spike in Legionnaires' but waited too long to tell the public.

Some experts have blamed the outbreak on Flint's water, which wasn't properly treated when it was drawn from the Flint River in 2014 and 2015. Legionnaires' is a type of pneumonia caused by bacteria that thrive in warm water.

Prosecutors say Wells didn't do enough to warn people about the outbreak, which happened while the state was managing Flint. Defense attorneys say Wells had no legal duty to warn the public.

The state says at least 90 cases of Legionnaires' occurred in Genesee County, including 12 deaths. 

Flint's tap water became contaminated in 2014 after officials switched from the Detroit system to the Flint River to save money, exposing many residents to lead, a potent neurotoxin. 

The switch to the Flint River was to be temporary, until the city could connect to a planned regional pipeline from Lake Huron. At that time, the impoverished majority-black city of nearly 100,000 residents was under control of an emergency financial manager appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

Residents complained the river water smelled and tasted bad and was causing skin rashes and other health problems. Local officials insisted it was safe.

State officials finally acknowledged the lead contamination in September 2015 after doctors reported high levels of lead in Flint children's blood and Virginia Tech University researchers said their testing of Flint water samples found some with lead levels meeting EPA's definition of "toxic waste."

Gov. Snyder ordered the National Guard to distribute bottled water and filters, requested federal aid and eventually accepted the resignation of his top environmental official.

Flint has since returned to the Detroit water system.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.