Witness: Lyon didn’t say ‘people are going to die’

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Flushing — The deputy director of finance for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday that Director Nick Lyon did not swear during a meeting with Wayne State University researchers discussing funding for a Flint water study project.

Farah Hanley told 67th District Court Judge David Goggins that Lyon “was calm, steady and measured” in the May 2016 meeting. It was Dr. Paul Kilgore, a Wayne State epidemiologist and part of the study group studying a 2014-2015 Legionnaires’ outbreak, who was profane and unprofessional at the meeting in Lansing, she said.

“He pounded on the table, turned bright red and leaned forward and said, ‘People are going to (expletive) die,’” Hanley recalled Kilgore saying at the meeting.

“Did you hear Mr. Lyon use that expression?” asked Chip Chamberlain, Lyon’s attorney.

“I did not,” she said.

“The meeting stood out to me because I’ve never been in a meeting where someone has been so hostile, aggressive and used profanity and directed it at the director or anyone else,” Hanley added. “I had a physical reaction. I actually shifted my body more toward Nick as if to protect him. I was worried.”

Hanley is a defense witness for Lyon, who has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office for allegedly trying to cover up the Flint area Legionnaires’ outbreak that killed 12 and sickened 79 others. The state notified the public of the outbreak in a mid-January 2016 press conference in Detroit.

The manslaughter charge carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and a $7,500 fine, while the misconduct charge carries a prison sentence of up to five years and a $10,000 fine.

The hearing also featured Dr. Marc Brodsky, a cardiologist at Beaumont Hospital, who testified that both Robert Skidmore and John Snyder didn’t die of Legionnaires’ disease but of cardiac and other symptoms — a diagnosis Special Prosecutor Todd Flood challenged.

Even Goggins, who rarely asks questions of witnesses, expressed incredulity when Brodsky said “it’s not really helpful” to take into account family members’ testimony that they watched Skidmore’s health status change rapidly after acquiring Legionella. The doctor said the family members lacked objectivity.

“If we don’t have Mr. Skidmore (who died in 2015) to try and find anything, how is it not relevant to see what the family ... they are observing, how is it not relevant?” Goggins asked the first of several times. .

Brodsky said he reviewed scores of documents about the health history and deaths of Skidmore and Snyder and that both men died of their various health issues ranging from cardiac causes to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, but not Legionnaires’.

When Flood grilled Brodsky on whether Legionella weakened Snyder’s heart, the cardiologist replied, “I’m not saying that it didn’t. But I don’t see any evidence that it did.”

Lyon’s preliminary hearing began in September. After a variety of delays, Flood has rested his case and defense attorneys are calling witnesses. Then it will be up to Goggins whether to bind Lyon over for trial.

Kilgore and environmental engineering professor Shawn McElmurry, both of whom have testified for Flood’s case, were part of the Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership group ordered by Gov. Rick Snyder to study whether Flint’s April 2014 switch to the Flint River was the reason for the Legionnaires’ outbreak. McElmurry has said his team tried to impress on Lyon and others the grave situation if they didn’t do more testing.

McElmurry testified in November that Lyon made the comment about not being able to save everyone. “It was not a joke,” McElmurry said, who added he was “caught off guard” by the comment. “It was quite disgusting to hear.”

But Hanley said she had “no recollection” that Lyon made that statement or that “some people had to die.”

The $3.1 million study has become a flashpoint in the Lyon hearing with differences of opinion about who got angry when the financial cost was discussed. Initial cost estimates ranged from $9 million to $12 million for the study.

Hanley said she met with McElmurry and Kilgore at an April 2016 meeting and impressed on them that the initial $12 million figure wasn’t going to work and be supported by the state Legislature.


(313) 222-2620