A Rush to Judgment


Henry L. Carrigan, Jr.


On July 9, 1993, Jimmy Scott’s arms and back ached from lifting fifty-pound sandbags all day. He and scores of other volunteers had been working against time and the rising waters of the Mississippi River to secure the levee that protected West Quincy, Missouri, from these waters. When he left the levee that day, he felt satisfied that his work would help save the community if the swollen river began to rise any more. One week later, however, Jimmy’s life changed dramatically when the levee broke—destroying everything within a 14,000-acre radius—and he found himself charged with intentionally creating a catastrophe.

In the riveting prose and fast-paced narrative of Damned to Eternity: The Story of the Man They Said Caused the Flood (Da Capo; $24.95), Adam Pitluk, who teaches at the University of Texas, offers a compelling tale of a young man trying to turn his life around and a town not willing to forget the boy’s past crimes. Pitluk recreates day-by-day the unfolding disaster and traces in great detail the events in Scott’s life that brought him to this juncture.

“Jimmy was a hood, a local bad boy who Quincy residents thought could do no good . . . by sandbagging, he thought the locals might reconsider their opinions of James Scott a tad bit.”

Pitluk narrates a tale of a small town boy who falls into the wrong crowd and whose parents are too busy to pay attention to Jimmy’s fall. Jimmy has various scrapes with the law, including a jail term for arson, but when the flood waters rise, he decides to help out and change the town’s image of him.

On the day the levee breaks, the men in charge of the sandbagging effort ask him to check for leaks. He finds one and reports it, though those in charge tell him to keep an eye on it. Not long after, water crashes through another spot. When a television reporter interviews him about his volunteer effort and the break, he mentions moving sandbags to repair the leak he’s found. When the local police see the interview, they arrest Jimmy, charge him, and convict him. Even those he considered his friends turn evidence against him.

Today, Scott (prisoner #1001364) sits in jail pondering his future, working in the prison hospice, and wondering about his family. He remains the only person ever charged under Missouri’s law of Intentionally Creating a Catastrophe. Pitluk’s spellbinding tale of a town’s rush to judgment is a harrowing parable of justice gone awry.

Henry Carrigan dreamed of being a rock ‘n roll star with a life of coast-to-coast tours and wild parties with Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell among others. But books intervened, and instead he went to Emory University to major in Religion and Literature. Later, teaching humanities in college, he took up writing about books—this time to avoid reading students’ papers. Henry soon became Library Journal's religion columnist, then religion book editor for Publishers Weekly. While working as editor-in-chief for Northwestern University Press and editing classic books for Paraclete Press, he still continues to write for LJ and PW, as well as the Washington Post Book World, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Charlotte Observer, ForeWord magazine—and now, BiblioBuffet. And he still enjoys playing his guitar. Henry can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it    

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