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Michigan judge orders state health director to stand trial for deaths linked to Flint water crisis

Michigan state health director Nick Lyon will stand trial for two deaths related to the Flint water crisis of 2014-2015. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

A judge has ordered Michigan's state health director to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter of two deaths linked to Legionnaires' disease outbreak in connection to the Flint water crisis, the Detroit News reported.

Nick Lyon is the highest ranking official to face trial over the tainted water crisis in 2014-15 that left 12 people dead and at least 90 others sick, according to court documents. He has been accused of not issuing a timely alert to residents about the disease outbreak, according to the News.

District Court Judge David Goggins said that Lyon "willfully and neglectfully refused" protect the lives of two Flint-area men who died from the lung infection by failing to notify the public.

"I do find based upon the totality of all the evidence ... I find this behavior over this time period of withholding information corrupt based upon misconduct in office for probable cause standards," District Court Judge David Goggins said in court, the News reported.

Lyon will also face one count of misconduct in office. Monday's ruling followed a three-week delay in the Flint water prosecution case.

What's the back story?

In 2014, the city of Flint switched its water source from Great Lakes Water Authority to the Flint River.

After the switch, dozens of residents contracted the Legionella bacteria which causes a very serious type of pneumonia called Legionnaires' disease. Experts believe the outbreak was caused by improper water treatment.

The bacteria can emerge through misting and cooling systems especially in people with weakened immune systems. At least half of those who contracted the disease had spent time in the McLaren Hospital, which was on the Flint water system, according to court documents.

The investigation into the Legionnaires’ outbreak is part of a larger quest to discover how the city's water system became contaminated. The water allegedly wasn't properly treated, which caused pipe corrosion and lead to leach into the water system.

What did the prosecutors say?

Prosecutors alleged that Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and Lyon waited until January 2016 to report the disease outbreak.

“He had the chance to save lives,” special prosecutor Todd Flood told the court at a July 25 hearing, the Lansing State Journal reported.

Lyon admitted to knowing about the illnesses more than a year prior to alerting the public.

What did Lyon's lawyers say?

"I can't tell you how disappointed we are in the ruling today and here's exactly why: The judge went on for two hours summarizing all of the prosecution's best testimony and didn't take into account any of the contrary testimony, any of the disputes," attorney John Bursch said after the hearing, the News reported.

"You heard a lot of things today of things that went wrong. They're not all Director Lyon's fault. He is not vicariously liable for all 14,000 employees of the Department of Health and Human Services," he added. "[Lyon] is not corrupt and there's no evidence of that.

Lyon has denied any wrongdoing.

What else?

Fourteen other current or former officials have also been charged with crimes linked to the water crisis, according to the State Journal.

Four of those charged agreed to misdemeanor plea deals and the other cases are ongoing.

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