Twenty years ago, hundreds of Louisvillians crowded the wharfs on the Ohio River to watch as the Belle of Louisville began to sink and list on its side.
On Aug. 24, 1997, according to an article by WHAS, the steamboat was taking on one gallon of water every second. The Coast Guard later determined that someone had opened a valve intentionally and let in water, flooding the hull.
A rescue mission lasted days and involved divers, pumps, cranes and salvage experts. The boat was out of commission for seven months for repairs.
In April of 1998, authorities charged Brennan Callan, whom they called a “disgruntled former employee,” with sabotage. He maintained his innocence throughout the trial and still says that he was falsely accused and convicted. The evidence against him was largely circumstantial. There were no eye witnesses.
In 1999, he was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.
“I am completely and utterly innocent,” he said after the sentencing, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Last year, Callan was part of a group who filed an unsuccessful lawsuit and injunction against removing the Civil War monument near the University of Louisville campus. His zeal for protecting this monument while having tried to have sunk another was brought up frequently in the media and at meetings. That monument is now in Brandenburg, Ky.
The Belle was built in 1914 and bought by city in 1964.