Flanked by her daughter Sarah and eldest son Jared, Maggie Smith holds a photograph of her son Tim Postma who died on the streets of Chilliwack on Jan. 22, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

Flanked by her daughter Sarah and eldest son Jared, Maggie Smith holds a photograph of her son Tim Postma who died on the streets of Chilliwack on Jan. 22, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

Chilliwack mother learns tragic details about her son’s death more than a year later

BC Coroners Service finds Tim Postma died after lighting a fire while locked inside a storage trailer

It’s been a hard week for Maggie Smith for two terrible reasons.

First, she read the BC Coroners Service report into the cause of death of her 25-year-old son Timothy Postma. Then, as a residential school survivor, she was faced with the horrible news this week about children found in unmarked graves in Kamloops.

“I’m back to day one when he passed, feeling the nausea again,” Smith told The Progress Monday.

Tim Postma struggled with substance abuse issues living mostly on the streets of Chilliwack, sometimes spending time at Ruth & Naomi’s mission, often wandering the streets with friends.

He died of smoke inhalation inside a storage container on Jan. 22, 2020 after, the coroner determined, lighting a fire to keep warm.

It was at approximately 3 a.m. that day when RCMP officers on patrol downtown smelled smoke and began to search for the source, according to Chilliwack RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Mike Rail.

The fire was found in an alley off Victoria Avenue in a commercial trailer between two business.

• READ MORE: One dead after early morning fire in commercial trailer downtown Chilliwack

Postma was found inside the trailer, unresponsive. He was transported to Chilliwack General Hospital where he later died.

The Progress asked for the BC Coroners Service report on Tim’s death, which was just received this week. At the time, Maggie was told Tim died of hypothermia and asphyxiation. While needles were found around him and it was likely he was consuming drugs, Maggie didn’t think he overdosed.

The coroner determined all that was mostly correct. Toxicological testing found Tim had the presence of fentanyl in his blood in a range where therapeutic and lethal levels overlap, and methamphetamine at recreational use levels. His cause of death, however, was from the inhalation of the products of combustion.

Put simply, on that cold January night, Tim crawled into the storage container to keep warm and to use drugs. The coroner determined he went unconscious or slept and, not seeing him, the owner of the storage container inadvertently locked Tim inside. When Tim awoke hours later, “he apparently lit a bag of sawdust on fire likely for warmth.”

Given that this sawdust was designed for food smoking, it produced a great deal of smoke in the enclosed container.

Coroner Lucy Pridgeon ruled the death to be accidental.

For Maggie, reading the report made her cry but it did answer questions about what happened.

“That evening one of my friends saw Tim at 12:30 p.m.,” she said. “He was talking about how cold he was and how he needed a place to stay and he couldn’t stay there so he went to that bin. I don’t blame anyone.

“Tim used to hide in places I didn’t know and always worried he wouldn’t be found if something like this happened. But it is so sad how he was alone.

”My family and I are thankful for the help. I know it is difficult for [first responders] as well when they can’t revive them.”

Maggie has been grieving the loss of her son for over a year, and this news brought it all back. Still, she says knowing what happened is all part of the grieving process.

“Things were pretty bad for Tim, I guess. But he is not suffering anymore.”

READ MORE: Maggie and Tim: A residential school survivor and her son who died on Chilliwack’s streets

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