On Jan. 6, 1994, in an incident that shook the world of figure skating, Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed on the leg by an assailant at Detroit's Cobo Arena.
Former Fox 2 investigative reporter Scott Lewis was at home when he heard about it and immediately thought this was a fascinating story.
In 1994, Lewis worked for WJBK TV2 Eyewitness News. He was the first to report the news that attack on Kerrigan may have been perpetrated by people in rival skater Tonya Harding's camp. Turns out he was right.
On Monday, I spoke to Lewis over the phone to get his thoughts on the 20th Anniversary of the attack.
LEWIS: "There was so much speculation that the attack was random, maybe by a crazed fan or a stalking kind of thing."
(Play the video to see Jimmy Roberts report the day of the attack, including reaction from Kerrigan as she lay on the ground crying and wondering why she was attacked.)
Lewis worked as an award-winning investigative reporter in Detroit for more than 30-years, most of them with WJBK TV and the last couple of years with WXYZ TV, Channel 7 in Detroit.
Lewis had inside contacts who told him the attack was anything but random.
LEWIS: "A very reliable source told me the FBI was investigating Tonya Harding and people in her camp. I needed to verify so I went to Cobo Hall and started talking to people."
On Monday, following a weekend competition, Lewis headed to a hotel at Detroit's Renaissance Center where most of the skaters were getting ready to leave. A number of people said they saw Harding talking to FBI agents, adding more verification that an investigation was underway.
Lewis knew what to do next.
LEWIS: "I called Harding's room. She answered, but said she was busy. I called again a few minutes later, this time letting her know that I had information that the FBI was investigating her and her possible involvement in the Kerrigan arrack. She hung up on me."
Lewis later found out the FBI was in her room when he called her.
After obtaining three solid sources, Lewis reported the news on WJBK TV Eyewitness News that Harding and the people in her camp may be responsible for the attack on Kerrigan.
LEWIS: "We broke it on the 10 O'Clock News."
I asked him if he was nervous being the first to report this story.
LEWIS: "Yes. I called my then wife Cindy and told her this could go worldwide."
He knew the story could make or break him. The night he reported the news, only NBC National News picked it up. No other media outlets carried the story either locally or nationally. Being out a limb is not easy for any reporter and it didn't help that Lewis received a call from what he thinks was a TV Guide reporter.
LEWIS: "A guy from TV Guide attacked me, questioning my journalistic integrity. I told him I stand by my story. I think they were going to publish a story attacking me."
TV Guide never printed anything about Lewis. The day after breaking the news, he continued working the story and offered an update after he talked to the president of Tanya Harding's fan club in Oregon. The Harding fan painted her as 'rough around the edges' and described some of the people in her camp as 'questionable.'
Two days after the Lewis reported Harding as a suspect, The Oregonian Newspaper broke the story wide open, naming bodyguard Shawn Eckhart and Harding's ex-husband Jeff Gillolly as orchestrator's of the attack.
Lewis flew to Oregon to follow the story, but came back to Detroit after the worldwide media turned the events into a circus.
Eckhart later confessed to the FBI that he, Gilloly and Shane Stant organized the 'hit.' Stant was the person who swung the police baton.
LEWIS: These guys were a bunch of bungling idiots who left an easy trail of bread crumbs to follow. They registered rooms in their own name, frequently called each other on the phone, used a credit card for transactions and of course they left the police baton used in the attack in a garbage bin at Cobo Hall."
Lewis knows a thing or two about criminal investigations as a long-time investigative reporter who now has his own private investigation business. GO TO: http://scottlewispi.com/
I asked him where this story ranks for him.
LEWIS: It's definitely one of the biggest stories I've covered in terms of exposure, but I am most proud of the investigative pieces I've done where it makes a difference. Exposing someone like Lonnie Bates (former Detroit City Councilman who was corrupt and ripping off the people) and he ends in jail as a result of my report. Or convincing the Detroit Police that there was a serial killer on the east side of Detroit, killing prostitutes near Mack Avenue, then that person gets convicted and sent to prison, that means a lot more to me."
In the summer of 1994, Stant and Eckardt are sentenced to 18 months in prison. Gillooly is sentenced to two years in jail and fined $100,000 for racketeering. Harding gets probation and is stripped of her 1994 national figure skating title and banned for life from the U.S. Figure Skating Association.
Of course most of us remember the Winter Olympics in 1994, where Kerrigan won silver and Harding's skate laces came untied, literally, and she finished 8th. There's Karma for you. Olympic television ratings soared that year.
WTTG FOX 5 & myfoxdc
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