Son: Father ‘active’ before Legionnaires’ death

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Flint — The son of Robert Skidmore testified Friday that his elderly father “was active” before falling sick in 2015 and dying from what medical experts later determined was Legionnaires’ disease.

After contracting the disease, the 85-year-old Genesee Township resident would sit in a chair and “never seemed to get better” before dying, son Robert J. Skidmore said in 67th District Court during the preliminary hearing for Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon.

Lyon was charged in mid-June with involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office related to Skidmore’s death.

His father couldn’t live independently and wouldn’t eat after being diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, Skidmore said.

Skidmore, when asked by Special Prosecutor Todd Flood, said his father suffered from congestive heart disease for nearly a decade but was still a vibrant man who was hunting deer in 2013, two years before he died.

“He liked to laugh, he liked to sing, he liked to be around family,” Skidmore said. “He liked to go up north. He loved the cottage. That was his whole thing, the cottage.”

The months-long hearing that continued Friday also featured James Henry, Genesee County’s environmental health director who testified about his interactions with state officials over the Legionnaires’ outbreak in 2015, and Jeff Seipanko, a special agent with the attorney general’s office, who spoke about information retrieved from Lyon’s iPhone.

On the stand, Skidmore recalled taking his dad to McLaren Hospital in Flint for procedures like water being drained from his lungs.

“He really didn’t like going to the hospital, and I would go over and he would not eat,” Skidmore said. “He usually ate breakfast. And I would say, ‘You want me to make you something, cereal?’ No. I’d say, ‘you all right?”

In June, his father was taken to the hospital, where he was admitted with pneumonia. When he returned, Skidmore said he was “shocked” to learn his father was in the intensive care unit. Shortly thereafter, Skidmore’s father was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease and his son was told to contact the Genesee County Health Department.

Under questioning by Lyon attorney Britt Cobb, Skidmore said his father was admitted to the hospital six to seven times before his death in December 2015.

At one point, he choked back tears as he talked about how his mother’s death from pancreatic cancer in June 2015 affected his father. Her body was cremated.

Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office argues that Lyon’s failure to declare a public warning about the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Genesee County in 2014-2015 resulted in the death of the older Skidmore.

Skidmore’s death certificate shows that he died Dec. 13, 2015, from “end stage congestive heart failure.” Only diabetes is listed as a contributing cause to the death of Skidmore, according to the certificate.

But the attorney general office's charging document indicates that a McLaren Flint Hospital doctor on June 2, 2015, collected a sample from Skidmore that tested positive for Legionella and that the Genesee County medical examiner will “not refute the medical doctor’s findings that Legionnaires’ Disease was a cause of Robert Skidmore’s death.” Lyon contests this.

At least 12 people died of Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area during 2014-2015 while 79 others were sickened. “People have died because of the decisions people made,” Schuette said in mid-June.

Henry, who has also testified in the preliminary hearing of state Medical Executive Eden Wells, said state health officials were slow to warn the public about the Legionnaires’ outbreak in 2014-15, and resistant to release information related to lead in water that affected children.

Legionella cases were spiking, Henry said, and his “overwhelmed” and “inundated” health department couldn’t handle everything and needed involvement from the state. He even filed Freedom of Information Act requests from the city, which was under control of the state-appointed emergency manager. And the state wouldn’t even let the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention come in to help, he said.

When asked if more warning should have gone out to the public, he said with his head down, “We should have. I wish we would have.”

A state health official declared the Legionnaires’ outbreak was over in a June 4, 2015 email, which was first reported by The Detroit News. But Henry said “I don't think there was a consensus that the outbreak was over. We had three cases.”

In other testimony, Seipanko said he retrieved Lyon’s iPhone for information extraction. He is a special agent who works in Schuette’s office and is assigned to the Flint water investigation.

Seipanko talked about a July 22, 2015, meeting in Lansing with Gov. Rick Snyder’s chief of staff Dennis Muchmore, urban policy adviser Harvey Hollins and Flint residents talking about the lead-in-water problem. A screenshot of a note from Lyon’s phone confirmed the meeting.

Another screenshot from Hollins’ phone shows a note from Muchmore to let Lyon know “lead is a big problem, can we follow up/Get w/DHHS.

Notes from Lyon’s phone showed the health director said there were two “incidents of compromised system, decreased oxygen in water” and “increased anemia and other health issues.” Another line said, “Talk to Dan about potential increase lead testing...we care.” It was a reference to Dan Wyant, then head of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

“Did you find anything as it relates to him caring about lead testing on his phone?” Flood asked.

“Not on his phone, no,” Seipanko replied.


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