Carrollton Woman Charged in Madison County For Allegedly Obstructing Investigation Into Fatal East Alton Storage Unit Fire

By Benjamin Cox on February 23, 2023 at 7:58pm

A Carrollton woman has been arrested and charged by the Madison County State’s Attorney’s Office for allegedly obstructing an investigation into a fatal storage unit fire in East Alton in the early morning hours on Tuesday.

According to a press release from the East Alton Police Department, at approximately 1:11AM Tuesday, the East Alton Police and East Alton Fire Department were dispatched to a structure fire at the STOR-ALL facility, located at 642 West St. Louis Avenue in East Alton. Upon arrival, first responders found multiple storage units fully engulfed. During the course of the fire fight, the East Alton Fire Department with assistance from multiple area fire departments, discovered a deceased subject laying supine on the floor of one of the storage units. The body’s discovery slowed the attack on the fire and, according to the press release, altered the focus of the incident from fire suppression to a death investigation. According to Riverbender, the fire departments from East Alton, Wood River, Roxana, Alton, and Rosewood Heights responded to the scene as well as Madison County Emergency Management.

The Investigation Bureau of the East Alton Police was immediately activated and responded to the scene. According to the press release, initial identification of the decedent was deemed difficult due to severe thermal burns as a result of the fire. Additional investigation revealed alleged suspicious circumstances that led to the fire and the death of the decedent. Due to the nature of the investigation, the East Alton Police requested the activation of the Greater St. Louis Major Case Squad and the Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshall.

Upon activation of the Major Case Squad led by Deputy Commander Kurtis McCray, the decedent was later identified as 55-year old James M. Huch, last known to be homeless of the Alton-East Alton area. The Major Case Squad says they then tracked Huch’s final movements, up to and including Huch being dropped off at a particular storage unit after midnight on February 21st and shortly before his death.

The Major Case Squad in cooperation with the Office of the State Fire Marshall, the Illinois State Police Division of Criminal Investigation, the Madison County State’s Attorney’s Office, the Madison County Coroner’s Office, the East Alton Police, the Jersey County Sheriff’s Office, the Greene County Sheriff’s Office, and the Jerseyville Police have deemed that there is no current credible evidence to suggest or support that Huch’s death was criminal in nature. According to the press release, Huch’s death is being deemed accidental due to the fire.

According to the press release, the East Alton Police Department and the Major Case Squad say that during the course of the investigation into Huch’s death over the last 3 days, a subject allegedly associated with Huch was identified, interviewed by detectives, and has been charged by the Madison County State’s Attorney’s Office.

68-year old Paula M. Vinyard of the 200 block of Old Barn Road in Carrollton was arrested by detectives without incident at her residence on the afternoon of February 21st for felony obstructing justice. Anonymous sources say that a vehicle was also taken from Vinyard’s residence as a part of the arrest. According to Major Case Squad investigators, Vinyard allegedly provided false and conflicting statements during interviews. Vinyard is currently being held at the Madison County Jail in Edwardsville on $30,000 bond. A first appearance in Madison County Circuit Court for the case has not been set.