ABC57 Investigates: Suffering in Solitude, what happened to Tiffany Helbling?

ABC57 Investigates: Suffering in Solitude, what happened to Tiffany Helbling?

PLYMOUTH, Ind. – In late-May, 31-year-old Tiffany Helbling of Plymouth died after her short incarceration in the Marshall County Jail.

ABC57 Investigates what happened to her while she was there. Her family says jail workers are responsible for her death and plans to file a lawsuit.    

After being placed on suicide watch, Indiana State Police say Helbling was found unresponsive and alone in her cell the morning of Sunday, May 23. Hours later, she was dead. 

Now, nearly three months later, her family is still searching for answers.      

“You would think that one of the safest places would be [is] in jail,” Jennifer Lowder, Tiffany’s step-mother, says.

Her father, Timothy Lowder, adds, “If I knew that she was going to die in jail, I would’ve gotten her out.”       

To bail Tiffany out would taken about $1,500, according to Timothy and Tiffany’s husband, Benjamin Helbling.    

Tiffany Helbling was no stranger to Marshall County’s Jail and had previous charges for drug possession.   

“She was no angel, trust me, but she wanted to do right,” Timothy says.   

Neither her parents, nor anyone else knew that when she was brought in on May 18 on DUI and drug charges, the daughter, wife, and mother of three wouldn’t walk out of jail alive.        

“I was shocked, I couldn’t think straight,” Timothy says, full of emotion. “My daughter is in jail, why is she dead? I don’t have an answer.”     

For nearly three months, Indiana State Police have been investigating, and the Helbling’s and Lowder’s have been waiting.       

“I thought that was the safest place for her at the time,” Benjamin says, echoing a familiar refrain.         

Benjamin says in addition to an opiate addiction, Tiffany was bipolar with 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 explains.   

He says that information came from Marshall County Coroner John Grolich.  

Grolich told us over the phone Tiffany made comments about hurting herself during the intake-process. 

On May 24, the day after Tiffany died, the Indiana State Police launched an investigation and sent out a news release confirming she was alone in her cell, but it doesn’t say when she was put there.  

Grolich says she was there her entire stay.      

Benjamin says he spoke to his wife a couple times while she was incarcerated.         

He says his wife didn’t tell him that she was on suicide watch and he only found out from the coroner when Grolich came to his house to break the news of Tiffany’s death.        

So, what happened to Tiffany Helbling in that cell?      

“I was told she was served breakfast at 7, she refused breakfast, just wanted an extra cup of water, they gave it to her,” Benjamin says. 

The coroner confirmed those events and that timeline.     

Helbling says Grolich told him that not long after Tiffany passed on breakfast on the morning of Sunday, May 23, she was found unresponsive in her cell.      

At 9:44 a.m. the coroner says she was rushed to St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Plymouth, and at 10:12 a.m., she was pronounced dead.      

“He (Grolich) said he didn’t see anything unusual with her heart or her lungs, nothing physically,” Benjamin recalls Grolich telling him.    

The coroner also told ABC57 Tiffany registered a normal body temperature of 98.9 degrees while she was in custody, but it’s unclear when that temperature was taken.   

When ABC57 asked the Indiana State Police for Tiffany’s cause of death, we were told she died of acute bilateral pneumonia, or fluid in the lungs. It’s an illness that would normally take a lot more time to die from, but the pathologist who did Tiffany’s autopsy found something inside her vagina that may have sped up the process. 

“He (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 says.

The corner says the toxicology report only showed Tiffany had marijuana in her system and didn’t pick up what that substance in the baggie was. Grolich says it had broken down and needed to be sent to an ISP lab for further testing.  

The news of a substance found in their loved one’s body is upsetting Helbling’s family, prompting an investigation, and maybe even a lawsuit.   

“Somebody should be watching,” Timothy Lowder says.   

Benjamin echoes him saying: “Under suicide watch, they’re supposed to be checking on you every 15 minutes. They’re supposed to be under 24-hour surveillance.”      

Benjamin says whether Tiffany brought in what was found on her or got it in jail, the jail failed to adequately protect her.       

“I don’t think they did their part to make sure she was secured,” Benjamin says.         

We reached out to Marshall County Sheriff Matthew Hassel and the county’s attorney Jim Clevenger for comment and answers.   

Here is a list of questions we asked:

  • Is a cavity search done when people enter jail? If not, do you check to make sure drugs aren't on their person?
  • Does Marshall County Jail have a body scanner? (which detects drugs)
  • Did Tiffany get those drugs while in jail?    
  • Why was Tiffany Helbling placed in a padded cell on suicide watch?
  • Why was Tiffany Helbling placed in a padded cell on suicide watch?
  • How often are inmates on suicide watch checked on?
  • How often was Ms. Helbling checked on?
  • Do guards write down what inmates are doing at the time of the check?

Hassel never returned our request for comment, but we spoke to Clevenger over the phone.      

Clevenger told us he “thought there was a body scanner” and “typically cavity searches are done.”      

Clevenger also said there was a camera inside Tiffany’s cell. So, we asked for that video around the time she was found unresponsive, but were denied due to the ongoing investigation.       

And as questions remain unanswered, a family, and children, who Benjamin calls “lost” now, grieves for Tiffany Helbling.      

“It makes no sense,” Jennifer Lowder says.

The family says it’s planning on filing a lawsuit when they get Tiffany’s death certificate. Ultimately, that will come from the coroner as he makes the final determination on Tiffany’s cause of death, but it’s not clear on when that will happen because he says he’s waiting on ISP’s tests to conclude on what’s in that baggie. 

Grolich did say it is possible the substance won’t be able to be identified.  

We asked the Indiana State Police for an update on when it will have results for the substance, it told us those results are still pending.

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