Utility Workers Indicted Over Brain-Eating Amoeba Testing

PHOTO: Two utility workers in St. Johns Parish, Louisiana were indicted for tampering with evidence after an investigation into the parishs amoeba-plagued water system. PlayWGNO
WATCH Utility Workers Indicted Over Brain-Eating Amoeba Testing

Two Louisiana utility workers have been indicted for allegedly failing to test the water supply for a brain-eating amoeba and then lying about it.

In late August, St. John the Baptist Parish officials told 13,000 people in three Louisiana towns that the deadly amoeba, called Naegleria fowleri, had been found in their water supply. The following month, state police officers began to inspect inconsistencies in the water inspection data, according to ABC New Orleans affiliate WGNO.

Utility workers Kevin Branch, 54, and Danielle Roussel, 43, were both indicted Monday on one count of failing to perform a duty required of a public employee and another count of creating and maintaining false public records, according to the indictment obtained by ABC News.

"It's unbelievable really because we trust them. We thought they were doing their jobs, and I'm kind of shocked," resident Sandra Remondet told WGNO. "I can’t believe it."

Naegleria fowleri causes primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, an extremely rare but almost invariably fatal brain infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The amoeba thrives in warm freshwater and enters the brain through the nose. This infection is not caused by drinking water contaminated by the amoeba.

A 4-year-old boy from a nearby parish died last year after contracting the amoeba while playing on a Slip 'N Slide. Afterward, New Orleans flushed its water supply with chlorine.

According to the grand jury indictment filed Monday, investigators compared the water inspection logs with data from the GPS devices on Branch's and Roussel's parish vehicles and concluded that Branch did not stop at 30 of the 48 water inspections he claimed to have done between Aug. 1 and Aug. 27. And Roussel did not stop for three of the six inspections she claimed to have completed over the same period, the indictment states.

Both Branch and Roussel were given 24 hours to surrender to the parish jail, according to a statement from the Louisiana Attorney General.

There have been 132 other reported cases of Naegleria fowleri infections between 1962 and 2013, with only a handful occurring each year, according to the CDC. By comparison, about ten people die in unintentional drownings per day, the agency said. Four of those Naegleria fowleri cases occurred in Louisiana.

In July, 9-year-old Hally Yust died after being infected with the amoeba in Kansas.

Neither Branch nor Roussel could be reached for comment. The Louisiana Attorney General's office said information on their attorneys was not available.