Daughter: Flint Legionnaires' victim in good health

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

The daughter of a Flint area man who died of Legionnaires’ disease said Monday that her father was in good health before contracting the form of pneumonia and dying in June 2015.

Special prosecutor Todd Flood and his legal team are charging Michigan Chief Medical Officer Eden Wells with involuntary manslaughter in the death of John Snyder. She is accused of delaying a public health warning about the 2014-15 Legionnaires’ outbreak that killed 12 and sickened 79 Flint-area residents.

Snyder’s daughter Mary Ann Tribble said her father was in good health before getting Legionnaires’, staying active by running and skiing. Tribble said Snyder had a “chronic form” of arthritis and leukemia, but doctors said it wasn’t going to be fatal. He was a real estate appraiser for 40 years, she said.

“He was very active,” Tribble said. “He was a downhill skier. He traveled across the country. He traveled to Europe, China. He was sharp. There was nothing wrong with his mind.”

Tribble, who worked for the Michigan Department of Health And Human Services as a policy specialist, said she never heard about an outbreak of Legionella from her agency. Snyder went into the hospital in early June and passed away on June 30, she said.

On cross-examination, Tribble admitted her father also had heart issues that resulted in the insertion of a pacemaker six years ago, around the time he had bypass surgery. He also broke his neck three years before he passed away.

Lawyers for Wells are arguing Snyder died one month after she started the job as the state’s chief medical officer, when the Legionnaires’ outbreak was well underway. In a court filing, the defense also calls the involuntary manslaughter charge a “physical impossibility” because Snyder died in June 2015, while Wells is accused of not giving public notice of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in December 2015 — a charge she also denies.

The defense lawyers argue that Wells does not have “the power to cause events in the past.” They added that Flood provided no evidence that the doctor willfully or maliciously tried to cause a death by the deadly form of pneumonia.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s spokeswoman, Andrea Bitely, declined comment because the case is in litigation.

In other testimony, the retired former deputy director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said he spoke to Wells about the Legionella outbreak on two occasions.

James Sygo had heard of resident complaints about the discoloration and odor of Flint’s water, although he wasn’t sure “if it was a health issue, but it certainly was an issue of concern to them.” Legionella, he said, is found in most surface water sources but is controlled by chlorination measures.

“We knew it existed. We were trying to evaluate how big a concern it is,” Sygo said. “It’s not unusual to find it in the drinking water systems. It’s a matter of controlling it with some sort of chlorination.”

Sygo said he spoke to Wells before she became the state’s top medical doctor in a spring 2015 phone call, and after she took the formal role in May at a fall meeting with former Flint Mayor Dayne Walling and others.

The first call was made when Wells, he said, worked in Ann Arbor and to see if she had influence with the Genesee County Health Department on “mapping where some of these issues were relative to Legionnaires’ and or Legionella.”

Sygo said he wanted to mention the Legionella issue to Wells as state officials were trying to figure out “how big of an issue” the outbreak was, but the doctor didn’t get back to him in the fall. He ended up going on leave from his job in the summer because his son had back surgery.

Sygo called Legionnaires’ a “mounting problem” because there had been a spike in the disease in 2014.

“We were trying to follow up on that,” he said, adding that there were questions about whether the outbreak was associated with the change to the Flint River as a water source.

“We didn’t know that for sure, and we were trying to get more information on who was consuming Flint water,” he said.

This was technically the second day of the preliminary exam hearing before 67th District Court Judge William Crawford II. Wells had previously been charged with obstruction of justice and lying to a peace officer by Schuette’s office in connection with the Legionnaires’ outbreak.

The first day last month was cut short when prosecutors announced that Wells would also be charged with involuntary manslaughter based on testimony in Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon’s preliminary exam hearing. He has also been charged with involuntary manslaughter.


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