Flint — A Wayne State University associate professor seeking to study the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Flint said Thursday that the state Health and Human Services director didn’t seemed concerned about saving lives amid the crisis.
The testimony came on the sixth day of the preliminary exam for HHS chief Nick Lyon, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office for allegedly trying to cover up the 2014-15 Legionnaires’ outbreak that killed 12 and sickened 79 Flint area residents.
“There’s language that I heard where it was told to me that we can’t save everyone and that somebody has to die of something,” said Dr. Paul Kilgore of his conversation in spring 2015 with Lyon.
When prodded by Special Prosecutor Todd Flood, Kilgore said Lyon spoke those words “or something quite similar to that” at a Lansing meeting. He said he didn’t think Lyon was joking.
“Our discussion was quite serious,” Lyon said.
During a sometimes tense cross examination by Lyon attorney Chip Chamberlain, Kilgore said he did not “recall” using profanity and pounded his fist into the table during their discussion about funding and studying the Legionella problem.
“And in your effort to be persuasive, you became angry, correct?” Chamberlain asked.
Kilgore said he wasn’t angry but “vocal” because he was communicating the “gravity of the situation.”
“Yeah, and you pounded on the table and you were profane,” Chamberlain barked. “You in fact were unprofessional. Correct?”
“I don’t recall,” Kilgore said.
Kilgore admitted he “had heard that” Lyon was trying to find more funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevent as cost estimates ranged for the study cost to be from $7 million to $12 million.
Before the trial, Kilgore has said the state should have notified the public about the Legionella outbreak well before Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder did so at a hastily organized Jan. 13, 2016 press conference in Detroit.
Kilgore also pushed for more research on Legionella bacteria and a possible link with the city’s compromised water system but was allegedly rebuffed by Lyon because the state couldn’t afford the cost.
Lyon is accused of involuntary manslaughter in the death of 85-year-old Robert Skidmore of Genesee Township. Others expected to testify are members of the Skidmore family as well as family members of John Snyder, who also died in 2015 of Legionnaires’ disease.
On Wednesday, Lyon’s lawyers focused their questions on what some of Gov. Rick Snyder’s staff knew about the Flint area Legionnaires’ disease outbreak and away from what their client knew. The subject came up under cross-examination of Snyder’s urban affairs director Harvey Hollins.