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Judge to decide whether state health director goes to trial

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

A judge must now decide if there is enough evidence to send Michigan’s health director to trial on involuntary manslaughter charges. Closing arguments came today in Nick Lyon's preliminary hearing.

Lyon is charged in connection with a Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Genesee County from 2014 to 2015 that killed at least a dozen people. The charges against him are related to two men who died in 2015. 

Lyon and other state health department officials were aware of the outbreak in January 2015. But a public announcement was not made until a year later.   

Special Counsel Todd Flood told Judge David Goggins today Lyon showed "willful disregard" for Flint residents. But Lyon's defense attorneys have questioned the causes of death of the two men cited by Flood, noting their death certificates did not list Legionnaires' as a cause of their deaths.

Still, Flood insists he’s shown during the ten-month hearing that there is probable cause to send the case to trial.

Credit steve carmody / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
MDHHS Director Nick Lyon (far left) listens as Special Counsel Todd Flood delivers his closing argument in Lyon's preliminary hearing

“We’re not prosecuting a mistake,” Flood told the judge. “We’re not prosecuting an innocent bureaucratic system where someone else down the line just failed to get stuff up to the top.”

But that’s exactly what Lyon’s defense argues.

Defense Attorney John Bursch told the judge Lyon delegated the Legionella investigation to subordinates.

“A lot of things may have gone wrong, that happens sometimes,” Bursch said in his closing argument. “That doesn’t mean it was director Lyon’s fault.”

Attorneys will have a few weeks to file paperwork with the court.

Judge Goggins will decide July 25 if there is enough evidence to send the case to trial.

In all, 15 current and former government officials have been charged criminally in connection with the Flint water crisis. Four have entered plea deals with prosecutors.

Lyon is expected to be the first to complete a preliminary hearing and learn if he will stand trial.

One defendant, former Flint emergency manager Jerry Ambrose, waived his preliminary hearing. 

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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