Seven-year-old Christopher A. Tinkham-Walck was killed this morning after a fire broke out in his Princeville apartment. Firefighters found the boy on his bed in his upstairs bedroom. Preliminary autopsy results indicate he died of carbon monoxide intoxication. He also was burned over his entire body. Mother and live-in boyfriend, who both smoke, told police they had been drinking earlier in the evening and fell asleep downstairs in the living room. They both sustained third-degree burns to their hands while looking for Christopher. A younger brother, 3, was able to escape.
The smile Christopher Tinkham-Walck seemed to wear permanently on his face was remembered Monday by those whose lives the 7-year-old touched.
"He was good little boy," said the boy’s neighbor, Tom Davidson. "He was friendly, happy go-lucky. He had a big smile and would come over here all the time to get cookies."
Tears trickled out of Davidson’s eyes Monday morning as he recalled the fiery scene that played out hours earlier at Manor Apartments, his heroic attempt to save the boy and reality that a life filled with promise was cut short.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation Monday night by the State Fire Marshall’s Office. Police were still sorting out the details — especially the time frame of events — and whether or not smoking or alcohol played a role in the fire.
About 1 a.m., nearly four dozen members of the Akron-Princeville, Dunlap, Brimfield and Wyoming volunteer fire departments converged on the two-story, four-unit apartment building at 319 S. Edwards St.
The apartment where Tinkham-Walck lived with his mother, Rhonda Walck, her live-in boyfriend, Roger Potter, and his 4-year-old brother had become swallowed by fire, with flames spewing out of the windows, police said.
The two adults and the younger boy ultimately escaped to safety.
Police arriving on the scene tried to get into the apartment to look for Tinkham-Walck, who was reported missing by his mother, but were pushed back by the intense heat and fire.
"There was flames everywhere," said Davidson’s roommate, Cheryl Cantwell. "There was no way anybody could have got in there to get him at that time."
Davidson, a former firefighter, also tried to rush past the wall of fire at the front door in an effort to save him.
"I tried to help him," said Davidson, wiping away his tears. "He was my friend. It’s a hell of a loss."
Firefighters located Tinkham-Walck lying face down on his bed in his upstairs bedroom. He died of smoke inhalation intoxication and suffered severe burns over his entire body, said Peoria County Coroner Johnna Ingersoll, referring to preliminary autopsy results.
Walck and Potter, both 27, suffered third-degree burns to their hands and palms while trying to find the boy amid the smoke and flames. Walck was listed in fair condition Monday evening at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria. Potter was transferred from St. Francis to Memorial Medical Center’s burn unit in Springfield for treatment, but was released Monday afternoon.
Both admitted to police to cooking dinner on the stove top about 8:30 p.m., then drinking alcohol and falling asleep about midnight Sunday in the living room. They last saw Tinkham-Walck sleeping in a recliner next to them.
It was Potter who awoke first and found the growing fire in the kitchen and adjoining living room, police said. Walck said there was no working smoke detector in the apartment.
The couple, who both smoke cigarettes, were able to find the younger boy, Justin Tinkham-Walck, and get him to safety. He was treated for minor injuries and released from St. Francis. The boys’ father, Bobby Tinkham of Creve Coeur, said the flames were "just inches" from the sleeping child’s head when they found him.
At one point during the night — less than an hour before the fire started — Potter left the apartment, went to a neighbor’s and played guitar, police said. He left a short time later, saying he was going home to cook something to eat. Not long after, Potter was alerting neighbors of the fire, witnesses said.
Bobby Tinkham said damage to the apartment was so severe, the building would likely be torn down.
"Everything went in the fire," he said.
A kindergartner at Princeville Grade School, Tinkham-Walck’s outgoing personality and eagerness to learn was praised by his teacher.
"He was a little fellow with a smile on his face all the time," said Shannon Sutherland. "He was a sweet little young man who was friends with everybody."
Leslie Fark can be reached at (309) 686-3188 or firstname.lastname@example.org.