Ohio Battalion Chief Haunted He Couldn't Save Boy
Feb. 11--A 5-year-old boy died today, three days after being pulled from an icy pond, and a Columbus fire battalion chief remains haunted by the knowledge that he was only 20 feet from rescuing him.
Elijah T. Walker was pronounced dead at 5:15 p.m. at Nationwide Children's Hospital, Columbus police said.
Divers pulled Elijah out of an East Side pond about an hour after authorities were called at 5:41 p.m. Thursday to the Hartford on the Lake apartment complex off Hamilton Road. Elijah had fallen through the ice.
Another rescuer, James R. Jenkins, 30, dived into the water first and kept the boy afloat for a while before going under himself. Divers pulled Jenkins out about 12 minutes before Elijah, but Jenkins died at Grant Medical Center on Thursday night shortly after he was taken there. He lived at the apartment complex.
"God bless him. I feel for his family," said Columbus Fire Battalion Chief John Vingle today. "I thought about that for the last two days."
When Vingle arrived, the boy was floating in the water. He said that he didn't know at first that a man also was in the water.
Columbus Fire Capt. Robert Price and three Columbus police officers had formed a human chain across the ice trying to reach the boy.
But just a few feet from the shore is a steep drop-off where the water is more than 20 feet deep, Vingle said. Divers later said the water was 39 degrees.
Rescuers then decided to put a few men on a ladder over the ice. But that effort also fell short.
Vingle then made a decision. Divers had not yet arrived, and every minute counted. As a battalion chief, he regularly sends firefighters into burning buildings.
"I wasn't going to order somebody not trained in water rescue to go in. So I decided to order myself," Vingle said.
Tying a rope around his waist, with firefighters holding the other end, Vingle jumped into the ice-choked water and tried to swim to the boy.
When he was about 20 feet away, the boy's head dipped below the surface. He felt around in the water but couldn't locate the boy or Jenkins.
"I was probably in there about six to eight minutes. I didn't feel cold," Vingle said.
But then, he said, he suddenly couldn't swim anymore and knew it was time to be pulled out.
"In my mind, I couldn't wait any longer. ... As it is, he went under, and that's what's so disheartening," Vingle said.
Elijah's family could not be reached tonight for comment.
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