- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Two former employees of a south Louisiana water system have pleaded guilty to covering up their failure to properly collect and test water samples from sites where a dangerous type of amoeba was found.

Kevin Branch, 55, of Laplace and Danielle Roussel, 43, of Paulina pleaded guilty Tuesday, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office announced in a news release. Branch pleaded guilty to two counts of false swearing; Roussel, to one count.

A one-year prison sentence for each was suspended. Each was fined $400, put on probation and ordered to perform community service.

The two were investigated after a type of brain-eating amoeba was found in the St. John the Baptist Parish Water Works system.

The amoeba has been blamed for three Louisiana deaths since 2011, although none were in St. John.

State health officials sought the investigation after the Naegleria fowleri amoeba was found in the parish’s water, even though records indicated chlorine levels high enough to kill it.

Caldwell’s office said Branch and Roussel were tasked with collecting water samples from at least two locations, including the Lions Water Treatment Plant in Reserve and an additional site in Mt. Airy, to ensure that the public water contained specific quantities of residual chlorine as required by Louisiana law. The employees were then supposed to record those findings on a daily log, which was to be filed with the state health department each month.

According to the indictment, Louisiana State Police determined that Global Positioning Systems attached to the parish vehicles assigned to Branch and Roussel showed that the two did not collect the samples that they attested to.

Public health officials say Naegleria fowleri cannot be contracted by drinking water but people can be made sick by it by swimming in warm, freshwater bodies of water and ingesting contaminated water through their noses.


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