JUST GOT DONE re-reading Adam Pitluk's fascinating book about the 1993 West Quincy levee break. Damned To Eternity is the story of Jimmy Scott, convicted not once but twice of intentionally causing the levee to break and causing a catastrophe. He supposedly stuck a shovel in the levee and caused it to break so his wife would be stranded in Missouri and he could party with his buddies the rest of that hot summer.
One week from today marks the 20th anniversary of that infamous event. Nobody around here will forget it. And nobody should.
Pitluk's book has some inaccuracies, because he relied too much on Scott's faulty and revisionist memory. But nobody in Quincy could write this book, because Scott was convicted as soon as he appeared on the evening news that fateful night of the levee break.
The Villa Kathrine isn't on Front Street, state's attorneys are in Illinois, not Missouri, and there were a lot more things glossed over when it came to the Scott boys and their various illegal activities. Those are minor issues. What isn't minor is that the Scotts lived a block away from 12th and Maine when Webster School burned in 1982, not more than two miles away, as Jimmy Scott told Pitluk. The three Scott brothers were convicted of setting the old school on fire.
But Pitluk gets to the heart of the story and gives Jimmy Scott's side - he didn't testify at either of his trials. And he points out how strange it is that in Missouri, Scott was sentenced to 30 years in prison, while in Illinois the same crime would have netted him seven years, at the most. Pitluk also describes how some people, experts in their fields, believe the levee was destined to fail, despite heroic efforts.
I interviewed Jimmy Scott in the Jefferson City prison five years ago for a big Whig story. I found him to be polite, unwavering in his belief of his innocence, and worn down from many years of incarceration. When I asked him if he'd ever return to Quincy, he said he'd probably have to sneak in and out - people around here haven't forgotten the misery caused by the levee break.
I think Jimmy Scott was capable of breaking the levee. He shouldn't have been anywhere near that side of the river. Whether he did it or not, well, God only knows, though a jury of his peers were decisive at both of his trials.
The Scott story continued recently when Jimmy's little brother, Jeff, got into trouble in Quincy for operating a "Courtesy Rides" service. Jeff changed his name to Jonathan Schoenakase and flaunted local authorities for a long time, and he continues to give his "free" rides to people from local establishments.
Read the book and you'll find out a bit more about Jeff. I wouldn't take a ride home from him, that's for sure.
And read the book to get a different side of the story of that awful event some 20 years ago. You might hate the Scott boys, and you might think Quincy is as much safer place with Jimmy Scott in prison for 30 years, but it's still a great read and worth the time.