Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Conviction in Levee Break Case Brings Relief to Town's Victims

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Conviction in Levee Break Case Brings Relief to Town's Victims

Article excerpt

To an outsider, it may seem remarkable the people hit hardest by a Mississippi River levee break take little pleasure that an Illinois man could face life in prison for causing the catastrophe.

But the residents of West Quincy, Mo., the border town swamped in the break on July 16, 1993, say they're mostly just relieved at the conviction last week of James R. Scott.

"I think people on the outside looking in think, `Oh, people must be ready to hang him,' " said Ralph Martin, who owned a service station that was destroyed when the river pushed through the levee.

"I think at the time (the levee broke) that might have been the attitude," Martin said Saturday in a telephone interview. "But it doesn't seem to be now."

Scott, 24, of Fowler, Ill., a fast-food restaurant employee and convicted arsonist and burglar, was found guilty by an Adair County jury Thursday of causing a catastrophe.

The felony is punishable by 10 years to life in prison.

The break flooded 14,000 acres of farmland, destroyed scores of buildings and closed a bridge between West Quincy and Quincy, Ill. - the only link between Missouri and Illinois for 200 miles along the river - for 71 days.

Scott told police he pulled several sandbags from the levee shortly before it broke. Several witnesses testified in the four-day trial that Scott told them he wanted to strand his estranged wife across the river at her job in Missouri.

"I doubt it would be safe for him to come walking down through that area if he was to get out tomorrow," said Martin, who has since rebuilt his station. "But . . . I can't think of a whole lot of things you could do to the guy that would bring back things."

Scott's trial might have aroused stronger emotion if people in West Quincy hadn't been confident in the verdict, Martin said.

"I don't think anyone around here ever expected him to be found anything but guilty," Martin said. …

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