New information in the death of 31-year-old Tiffany Helbling
PLYMOUTH, Ind. - New details emerge about the death of a 31-year-old Plymouth woman in the Marshall County Jail.
Nearly a month ago, an ABC57 investigation, Suffering in Solitude: What happened to Tiffany Helbling?, first looked at Tiffany Helbling’s death. A pathologist said it was due to acute bilateral pneumonia, but her family still has several questions about what happened to her.
ABC57 Investigates obtained the autopsy report from the family and we spoke to them about it.
Tiffany’s parents, Tim and Jennifer Lowder, say what’s in the report makes the pain of their daughter’s death worse. They say it proves their daughter, who spent almost five days in the Marshall County Jail back in late-May before dying, suffered while she was there.
Though this autopsy starts to answer some of their questions, for them, it opens the door to even more.
Tiffany Helbling was a daughter, a wife, and a mother.
"She didn’t have to lay on that jail floor and die alone... suffering," The Lowders say in a Zoom interview.
Helbling died on May 23 after spending several days in jail on DUI and drug charges.
Tiffany's husband, Benjamin Helbling, previously told us she had an opiate addiction, severe anxiety, and a history of suicide attempts.
“The coroner contacted me and said that she admitted to suicidal tendencies and they had her in a padded cell,” Benjamin explained to us in an interview for our earlier investigation.
We were also told previously in phone conversations with Marshall County Coroner John Grolich that it appeared Tiffany was in that padded cell her entire stay in jail.
Recall, her cause of death was ruled to be acute bilateral pneumonia, but since the beginning, the Lowders thought there was more to it. They thought a baggie found in Tiffany’s body, that she presumably smuggled into jail, may have contained drugs.
“He (Coroner John Grolich) said he did find a baggie inside her that looked like it had ruptured, but he wouldn’t know if that was the cause until he got the toxicology report,” Benjamin again told us in that prior interview.
It actually turned out to be a desiccant bag, which are those little packets manufacturers use to keep away moisture, and it was determined to not be a contributing factor in her death.
"We all were under the same assumption of what the outcome would be... and it’s not," The Lowders say.
Instead, the autopsy report showed Tiffany had COPD, hypertension, severe ulcers, and fluid in her lungs that caused swelling in her brain.
"You cannot tell me that having bronchitis, double-pneumonia, and all those different things going on that she didn’t show signs of being sick," The Lowders say.
Her parents describe Tiffany as dramatic and say even an eyelash in her eye would draw vocal complaints. The Lowders argue Tiffany was likely begging jail staff for help.
"She was truly sick," Jennifer says. "Did they just put her in suicide watch in a cell and just leave her there to suffer? That’s what it sounds like to me, they threw her in a cell and said forget her."
The autopsy report also showed that at 5'4", Tiffany weighed just 70 pounds when she died. Her parents say she weighed around 100 pounds when she was arrested.
"How can you be 70 pounds?" The Lowders ask. "We know she’d been sick prior and she’d been losing weight prior."
In the months before she was arrested, her parents say Tiffany sought medical care, but it’s unclear what that was for.
"In those six (sic) days, with her being on suicide watch, did they even monitor what she was eating?" Jennifer Lowder says.
The autopsy report also found marijuana and naloxone in Tiffany’s body. Naloxone is used to stop opioid overdoses.
"I don’t know why they would think she was overdosing on drugs after six (sic) days in there on suicide watch," The Lowders say.
Tim and Jennifer say Tiffany should have received the proper care when she needed it, and jail staff failed to protect her.
"The jail did not give her adequate medical care," Jennifer Lowder says.
We reached out to Marshall County Coroner John Grolich, Sheriff Matthew Hassel, and County Attorney Jim Clevenger for answers and comment.
Here is an unedited copy of the questions we sent Hassel and Clevenger:
1: The autopsy report says Helbling was around 70 lbs upon her death. Her family says she was around 100 lbs when she walked into the jail. Was jail staff aware of her rapid weight loss? Was she given medical attention? What was that?
2: Tiffany Helbling's family says she was in the hospital a month before her arrest. Was jail staff aware of her health issues?
3: Did she ask for care in her cell? What were her symptoms? I understand there was a camera on her, was she throwing up blood? How many times did she ask for care? Did she receive any? Is there a record of hospital visits or jail medical care? Was she administered any medications?
4: What is the threshold for an inmate to receive medical care?
5: Naloxone was found in Tiffany's body during the autopsy -- why did jail staff assume she needed that? What's their training?
6: Do you believe Tiffany's death could have been prevented if she received proper care while incarcerated?
Neither Hassel, nor Clevenger, nor Grolich could discuss the case since the Lowders have filed a lawsuit seeking answers and damages, but the facts of the report have left Tiffany’s family feeling numb.
"It’s really hard to swallow and to understand," Jennifer says during the Zoom interview. "It hurts more."
They hope more facts, including what happened inside Tiffany’s cell, comes to light through their lawsuit. The Lowders also have a message for the those who have loved ones in jail, take their concerns seriously.
ABC57 Investigates will be following this case and we’ll provide updates when we have them.