I think we can all agree, floods suck. They're, like, a total bummer. Floods have sucked since Noah built an entire ark to avoid being caught in one. I enjoy a nice glass of water as much as the next person, but I mean, come on. I don't want a billion glasses of water at once. Cut that out, Mother Nature. Like now.
Although recent weeks and months have seen devastating floods and natural disasters, consequential flooding isn't a new event in America, as evidenced by the "Great Flood" of 1993, which flooded over 30,000 square miles of land adjacent to the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.
James Scott, pictured below, is serving a life sentence related to this event. He's accused of purposely flooding 14,000 acres of land and is the only person in Missouri to be convicted for "Intentionally Causing a Catastrophe." To this day, Scott maintains his innocence.
This is Adam Pitluk, an author who filled an entire book with reasons why James Scott is innocent. And yet, Scott remains in jail with no opportunity for parole until 2023, when he will be 53 years old. Scott was convicted when he was only 23.
In 1993, Scott was a volunteer who was helping the National Guard to fortify a levee that protected West Quincy, Missouri, from the Mississippi River, which was raising at a staggering rate due to a summer of torrential rainfall. One day Scott was given waders and tasked with using duct tape to repair holes in the tarps that covered sandbags along the river's levee.
During his patrol, Scott noticed an area with worrisome seepage and attempted to fix the problem with some extra sandbags. He also alerted Duke Kelly of the National Guard, whom Scott was volunteering for, about the leak, but he was largely dismissed. Later that night, the levee failed and flooded the surrounding farmland.
The flooding from the failure was so pervasive that barges drifted from the river and moved over to once-dry land, where one of them struck a gas station. The gas station exploded, caused an oil slick, and the surrounding water caught fire. As you can imagine, the incident required extensive clean-up efforts and was an expensive fix. Thankfully, no one was injured.
At the scene of the flooding, Scott was asked by a local news station to comment, and was later interviewed again on a live broadcast. Neal Baker, a retired detective who had known Scott previously, thought the on-air interview was suspicious for several reasons, including the fact that Scott wasn't dirty or wearing a life vest.
Detective Neal Baker knew James "Jimmy" Scott because of a past conviction, when he had arrested Scott for burning down a garage. And before that incident, Scott had previously been convicted of burning down his elementary school; he was 12 at the time. Which, to say the least, makes him a very proactive 12 year old. What were you doing when you were 12? Probably sitting around doing nothing.
Intrigued by the televised interview, and already suspicious of Scott for a variety of other local crimes, Baker paid Scott a visit. Since Scott was already a suspect in a recent burglary, Baker arrested him. Scott denied everything and told the officers what he knew. Unable to assign Scott a motive, the Baker let him go.
Detective Baker found the motive he needed upon interviewing Joe Flachs, who was under house arrest. Flachs was a friend of Scott's, and said that Scott had confided in him that he wanted to wreck the levee on purpose, in order to strand his girlfriend in Missouri so that he could cheat on her.
Scott was convicted of the crime, then appealed, then was convicted again. Due to his previous crimes, Scott was unable to testify, and the witness that he claims was with him on the day of the flood was nowhere to be found. His girlfriend didn't testify and tried to remain outside of the national spotlight surrounding to the trial, perhaps because she had a significant rap sheet of her own and a child to take care of.
Adam Pitluk, the author of the book that claims Scott's innocence, focuses on science. When various experts were asked to identify the location where the levee would have broken naturally, they identified the exact location where it did break. Also if Scott had sabotaged the levee himself, he almost undoubtedly would have died in the process.
According to Pitluk, other factors contributed to Scott's conviction. A big one was insurance money. No one in the impacted areas had flood insurance. "But if the levee was sabotaged," said Pitlick, "that’s now an act of vandalism [...] So the $1 billion dollars paid out of insurance can be collected.” That's a lot of moolah.
In the end, no one knows if Scott sabotaged the dam, and he will remain in prison until at least 2023. Pitluk admits that Scott might not be a good man, for he has been tried and convicted of previous crimes. However, according to Pitluk, bad men shouldn't be sent to jail if they don't deserve it, which is a sentiment worth pondering.