Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dammed & Damned: The Great Flood of ’93 Revisited

Posted By on Tue, Nov 20, 2007 at 5:08 PM

Whether they were out there sandbagging or watching on TV, everybody around these parts remembers the Great Flood of ’93. More than 14,000 acres of farmland deluged. More than 30,000 people displaced.

But can you name the guy who got blamed for the whole thing?

Back in 1993 he was a 24-year-old Burger King employee in Quincy, Illinois. A hard partier with a rap sheet, married to a truck-stop attendant named Suzie. Some might have called the guy a ne’er-do-well. Others might have said harmless.

Jennifer Silverberg

Water over the dam: Jimmy Scott, inmate.
  • Water over the dam: Jimmy Scott, inmate.

Water over the dam: Jimmy Scott, inmate.
His name is James “Jimmy” Scott, and these days he works a detail in the prison hospice at the Jefferson City Correctional Center, the result of his conviction on the charge of “causing catastrophe.”

Scott was found guilty of the felony once in 1994, and again at a retrial in 1998. To this day he’s the only person ever convicted under the 1979 statute -- though I’m not sure if others have been charged with such a crime.

I bring it up because a former Riverfront Times writing fellow is about to publish the true-crime tale of Scott’s conviction in the wake of the Great Flood. Adam Pitluk’s forthcoming book, “Damned to Eternity,” begins with Scott pulling his weight -- sand-bagging -- in the days before the flood and ends with a judge’s harsh words sentencing him to life in prison. It’s not exactly a sympathetic portrayal of Scott, but Pitluk does make a strong case for ways in which this man may have been made a scapegoat by overzealous prosecutors.

Pitluk first covered the story as a grad student in journalism at the University of Missouri, then for RFT. He spent a good chunk of time visiting Scott in jail last year in order to complete the book. Surely our old scribe will be coming to town for a signing sometime, somewhere. I’ll keep you posted on that.

-Kristen Hinman

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