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Court hears testimony about a lack of information sharing in Legionnaires' outbreak

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

Testifying in court today, the daughter of a man who died of Legionnaires' disease in 2015 testified she was not made aware of a deadly outbreak that was underway in Genesee County at the time.

Mary Anne Tribble says her elderly father led an active life, despite some health issues. But his health deteriorated quickly in June of 2015, following a trip to Flint’s McLaren Hospital. Tribble says she and other family members were with him when he died.

“That’s when we found out he had Legionella,” Tribble told the judge.

John Snyder was one of at least a dozen people who died during the 2014-2015 outbreak.   

Mary Anne Tribble understood the mortal threat Legionella bacteria can pose.

Tribble spent decades working in public health. Back in the 1970s, she was living in Philadelphia, where the first documented outbreak was recorded.   

Twenty-five people attending an American Legion convention at a downtown Philadelphia hotel died from the bacterial infection in 1976.      

Eden Wells, Michigan’s chief medical executive, is facing several charges.Prosecutors say they plan to charge Wells with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the outbreak.

Special Counsel Todd Flood tried several times to ask Tribble if she would have moved her father to a different hospital if she had been aware there was an ongoing Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Genesee County.

But Wells’ defense attorneys objected to the question, and the judge eventually upheld their objection. 

Another witness testified that he asked Wells for help in getting Legionella data from county health officials, apparently to no avail.

Jim Sygo was the second-in-command at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He testified today the outbreak was a “mounting problem” in early 2015.

“Naturally, I think the ‘duh’ type of thing is, ‘Is this associated with the change to Flint water,'” testified Sygo.

The outbreak coincides with the city’s ill-fated switch to the Flint River for its drinking water.

Sygo testified he tried to get Michigan Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells to help with their investigation on two occasions.   

But defense attorneys raised questions about Sygo’s memory of his conversations with Wells.

It will be up to a judge to decide if the case against Wells should go to trial.

The preliminary exam is scheduled to continue tomorrow.  

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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