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Damned to EternityReview - Damned to Eternity
The Story of the Man Who They Said Caused the Flood
by Adam Pitluk
Da Capo Press, 2007
Review by Richard H. Corrigan
Dec 16th 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 51)

Damned to Eternity is the fascinating true story of the enforcement of an obscure law that resulted in the life-imprisonment of James Scott in a maximum security prison. The story focuses on the Great Flood of 1993, in which a levee on the Mississippi broke with catastrophic effects for thousands of acres farmland, homes and businesses in Missouri. The particular levee in question, locally known as the West Quincy, and the almost unbelievable events that ensued following its breach is the central focus of the book.

Scott, a twenty four year old fast food employee, had been involved in the efforts to ensure that the river did not breach its banks, at a time when the potential hazard of a serious flood was widely recognized. He was a troubled young man with the reputation of being a delinquent, which stemmed from his previous brushes with the law, including a term in prison for burning down a local school. However, at the time of the incident, Scott had selflessly volunteered to assist in local efforts to reinforce the area’s flood defenses.

In fact, it was this voluntary enterprise that resulted in his eventual incarceration. It is the alleged actions of Scott, immediately prior to the breaking of the levee, that resulted in his conviction in 1994, and again in 1998, for Intentionally Causing a Catastrophe, a class A felony in the state of Missouri. It was claimed by the authorities that he intentionally destroyed the levee in order to get drunk with some friends on one side of the river, while at the same time ensuring that his wife was left stranded on the other. His own account of the incident differs radically. He maintained that he had done everything in his power to ensure that the floodwaters were contained, and prior to the levee breach was even captured on camera by a local TV anchor boasting that his efforts had been responsible for the salvation of the community.

It was the local sheriff who initially instigated what can reasonably be called a witch-hunt. He was adamant that Scott was no hero, and that his activities must have caused a leak which, rather than admitting to and seeking assistance, he struggled with alone and actually made worse. The level of accusation escalated with family, friends and community seeking a scapegoat on which to hang their misfortune and misery. Scott was the recipient of this anger and grief, and eventually he was charged by the Sheriff with intentionally causing the mayhem and disaster that ensued when the waters swept through the locality. Despite the fact that testimony was offered by expert witnesses that appeared to exonerate him, he was nevertheless found guilty and is still serving his sentence. He will not be considered for parole until 2023, when he will be 55 years old.

Adam Pitluk weaves an interesting and compulsive story that is a testament to his uncompromising investigation of the events, and his dogged defense of the accused. He masterfully recounts the impending disaster in a flowing narrative that creates tension and suspense. Although an account of actual events, the pace of this book gives it the sense of unfolding and tension that is integral to good crime fiction. If you are interested in legal intrigue and conspiracy, which is clearly explained and fascinatingly recounted, then this book is to be highly recommended. Damned to Eternity is a book that shows that witch-hunts do still occur, and that the pressure of the masses can outweigh common-sense and compromise just legal process. In the case of Scott, it appears that a petty criminal served as the outlet for a community’s rage, and that a mob’s rush to judgment ensured that a convenient suspect was made to pay for a crime that he did not commit.

© 2008 Richard H. Corrigan

Richard H. Corrigan (PhD) graduated from UCD in 2006.  He has written several books and numerous articles on philosophy of religion, politics and agency.  His is the Chief Editor of Philosophical Frontiers: A Journal of Emerging Thought.  richardcorrigan@philosophicalfrontiers.com.


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