New Flint Legionnaires' victim named as last preliminary hearing begins

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FLINT (WJRT) (1/8/2018) - A Genesee County woman who died on Dec. 21 of Legionnaires' disease became the third victim named in legal proceedings against government officials charged in the Flint water emergency.

Karenise Westbrook died of the same legionella bacteria strain as Robert Skidmore, who died in December 2015. The final four government officials charged in the case are accused of causing her death.

Skidmore contracted Legionnaires' disease, which is a serious form of pneumonia, while a patient at McLaren Hospital in Flint. Westbrook was never at the hospital, but she worked at an assisted living facility nearby, Flood said in court.

"McLaren Hospital had large amounts of iron in their hospital and even through McLaren Hospital was chlorinating and trying to figure this out, and was trying to make something of it, there was too much bacteria coming through the system," Flood said.

A preliminary hearing for the final four suspects began Monday in a Flint courtroom.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality employees Stephen Busch, Michael Prysby, Patrick Cook and Liane Shekter-Smith are facing a variety of charges.

Busch, the District 8 water supervisor, is facing four felony and two misdemeanor charges, including involuntary manslaughter.

Prysby, a District 8 water engineer, is facing the same charges.

Cook, a specialist in the department's community drinking water unit, is facing two felonies and one misdemeanor charge.

Shekter-Smith, the former chief of drinking water and municipal assistance, is facing two felonies and one misdemeanor charge, including involuntary manslaughter.

All their cases stem from the December 2015 death of Robert Skidmore. He died after getting Legionnaires' disease at McLaren Flint, which experts have testified resulted from officials not giving timely notice of the outbreak.

Special Prosecutor Todd Flood contends that the Legionnaires' outbreak was caused by Flint's April 2014 switch to pumping drinking water from the Flint River rather than have it piped in from the Great Lakes Water Authority in Detroit.

"You will hear Mr. Glasgow sounding the alarm - DEQ, DEQ we're not ready. We don't have enough people here. We don't have training here. The plant is not ready here," Flood said of officials at the Flint Water Treatment Plant.

William Brown, a longtime Michigan Department of Environmental Quality employee who worked with the Genesee County Drain Commissioners Office as a consultant, testified first Monday about how the transition to Flint River water should have been carried out.

The preliminary hearing, which will help the judge decide whether enough evidence exists to send the case to trial, began at 10 a.m. Monday. Testimony is expected to continue Wednesday with Skidmore's family on the witness stand.

Flood expects to call a total of 24 witnesses during the hearing.

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