FLINT, Mich. (AP) — Robert Skidmore was born in Flint, raised a family there and lived his entire life in and around the blue collar town that — next to Detroit — was synonymous with manufacturing of cars and trucks.
But his December 2015 death has been blamed on Legionnaires’ disease and linked to a tainted water crisis that on Wednesday led to involuntary manslaughter and other charges against five officials, including the director of Michigan’s Health and Human Services department.
Skidmore, 85, was one of 12 people to die from the disease and nearly 100 cases of people being sickened from it.
“Everybody was pretty upset, rightfully, finding out this could be the reason that he died,” grandson Craig Skidmore of the Legionnaires’ revelations. “It definitely didn’t set well with us.”
Wednesday’s charges are part of the criminal investigation into how Flint’s water system became poisoned after officials tapped the Flint River in 2014.
Nick Lyon, 48, is accused of failing to alert the majority-black population about an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area, which has been linked by some experts to poor water quality in 2014-15.
An involuntary manslaughter conviction carries up to 15 years in prison.
Lyon also is charged with misconduct in office for allegedly obstructing university researchers who are studying if the surge in cases was linked to the Flint River.
The others charged with involuntary manslaughter were already facing other accusations. They are: Darnell Earley, who was Flint’s emergency manager when the city used the river; Howard Croft, who ran Flint’s public works department; Liane Shekter Smith; and Stephen Busch. Shekter Smith and Busch were state environmental regulators.
Prosecutors also brought charges against the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Eden Wells, 54, who is accused of obstruction of justice and lying to an investigator.
Flint began using water from the Flint River while under state emergency management, but did not treat it to reduce corrosion. Toxic lead from old plumbing leached into the water system, causing elevated levels in children and leaving residents to drink and bathe with bottled or filtered water.
Some experts also have linked the water to Legionnaires’ disease, a type of pneumonia caused by bacteria that thrive in warm water and infect the lungs. People can get sick if they inhale mist or vapor, typically from cooling systems.
Robert Skidmore was admitted to a hospital in June 2015 with symptoms consistent with pneumonia. He died at home six months later.
Flint’s failing economy, the water crisis and other problems troubled Robert Skidmore, an avid hunter, according to Craig Skidmore, 29, who lives in nearby Burton.
His grandfather would bemoan “how Flint changed for the worst from when he was growing up and raising his family,” Craig Skidmore told The Associated Press.
Robert Skidmore retired in 1987 after 37 years at General Motors Fisher Body plant. He would spend much of his free time at the family’s cabin “up north” in the tiny community of Lake George in Clare County.
“I think if he had his way they would have moved up north, but my grandma was a people person and everyone was in Flint. He didn’t want to take her away from that.”
Craig Skidmore said the family would have dinner at his grandparent’s home almost every Sunday until his grandmother died in June 2015.
Defense attorneys for the six officials spoke out against the charges.
“The true facts simply do not support the prosecution’s claims,” said Chip Chamberlain and Larry Willey who are representing Lyon.
Convincing a jury that the officials’ failure to disclose the risk of Legionnaires’ disease caused a death would be difficult, Wayne State University law professor Peter Henning said.
“This case is going to become a battle of the experts, something we don’t usually see in a homicide or manslaughter prosecution,” Henning said. “This is a tough case for the attorney general. They can get a conviction but it’s not going to be easy.”
The Michigan Civil Rights Commission issued a report in February blaming “systemic racism” going back decades for the problems that caused the water crisis in Flint.
Associated Press writers John Flesher in Traverse City and Ed White and Corey Williams in Detroit contributed to this report.