Inmate's family scrambling for answers after overdose death

April Tykoliz is still reeling after having to pull the plug on her little brother Marty as he lay dying in a Hamilton hospital Tuesday night. She doesn’t understand how he apparently overdosed twice inside the Barton Street jail earlier this week.

Marty Tykoliz, 38, died in Hamilton hospital Tuesday night after a suspected overdose

Marty Tykoliz (left) and his sister in better times. The 38-year-old Hamilton man died in hospital after a suspected overdose inside the Barton Street Jail last week. (Facebook)

April Tykoliz is still reeling after having to pull the plug on her little brother Marty as he lay dying in a Hamilton hospital Tuesday night.

She doesn’t understand exactly how or why he died — and can’t wrap her head around how he apparently overdosed not once, but twice inside the Barton Street jail earlier this week.

Now, Tykoliz’s family just wants Marty’s body back so they can say a proper goodbye with an open casket funeral — but they’re scared they won’t get the chance before that window closes.

“I have no answers and I was told nothing,” she told CBC Hamilton. “Our family just wants to say goodbye and get some peace. We need it.

“How could this have gone this far?”

Both Hamilton police and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services have launched an investigation into how the 38-year-old Hamilton man died after being rushed to hospital from the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre twice this week. City ambulance crews had been called to the detention centre a startling 12 times between Monday and Wednesday morning for inmates all suffering from overdose-like symptoms. Three inmates were first taken to hospital with overdose symptoms Monday — and Marty was one of them.

All three men were brought back to the jail some hours later, sources say. But paramedics were called back to the jail Tuesday after Marty’s heart stopped.

He died in hospital that night.

He could be alive today: sister

“He should’ve been in hospital. He never should have been brought back,” Tykoliz said. “He could’ve been alive today.”

Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services Brent Ross confirmed the death, but would not comment on specifics because of the ongoing investigation.

Sources inside the jail say they’ve heard Tykoliz had taken powdered methadone, a powerful synthetic narcotic analgesic that’s used to treat opiate addiction in detox programs. The Hamilton Spectator reports that inmate Mike White said Tykoliz told him he had taken the drug.

Tykoliz's sister April told CBC Hamilton that her brother told her he was in jail for theft, but he never elaborated on exactly what happened. (Facebook)

April Tykoliz says she knew her brother had a drug problem, but he’d “never done anything like this.” When powdered methadone is used as directed, it’s usually dissolved in a liquid and swallowed. It’s much more potent if snorted or injected, and can cause coma, cardiac arrest and death.

Regional coroner Dr. Jack Stanborough told CBC Hamilton it will be more than a month before toxicology screens come back from Tykoliz’s body — and even then, it won’t be possible to discern if he took methadone in a powdered form. “We’re still in the process, so there are no findings of note as of yet,” he said. “But methadone is certainly on our screens for drugs of abuse. It’s among the top of the list for use we see.”

If investigators rule Tykoliz’s death was “unnatural,” a mandatory coroner’s inquest will be ordered – but that will only happen once the police investigation is finished, Stanborough says. Until then, the family will likely be left scrambling for answers. “There probably is going to be a long process here depending on the investigative charges,” Stanborough said.

A source inside the jail told CBC Hamilton investigators are inside the jail Thursday reviewing video and reports. “Things are pretty sombre,” he said. “We’re just waiting for the next shoe to drop.”

No public safety alert issued by police

Hamilton police will only say detectives from Division 1 and the vice and drug unit are investigating the incident. Back in September of 2012, police issued a public safety alert after an inmate died of an apparent heroin overdose inside the Barton jail. Three other people outside the jail were also hospitalized over what was called “bad heroin.”

No wider community alerts have been issued this time, spokesperson Catherine Martin told CBC Hamilton.  "At this point, a public safety alert is not warranted,” she said.

Tykoliz’s grandmother June says her family is trying to understand how Marty could get access to drugs inside the detention centre. “It’s very difficult for us,” she told CBC Hamilton. “Nobody forced Marty to do the drugs, but the jail should do more to stop them from going in.”

A source inside the jail told CBC Hamilton a repeat offender smuggled in the drugs. There are also very few "dry cells" available for inmates when they first come in, the source says. "Dry cells" are places where inmates who have just been admitted can be watched for a time to see if they've ingested or are carrying any drugs. "Staffing levels are low, and searching has dropped off due to low staffing levels," he said.

Not enough guards are available to consistently monitor the cells, says Dan Sidsworth, chair of corrections with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU). Inmates are “passing things in dry cells and re-ingesting them,” he said.

That’s just not good enough, April Tykoliz says. “I’m not looking to crucify them — my brother took what he took,” she said. “But they need to take some responsibility.”

“Just some.”

According to the Office of the Chief Coroner, there have been seven overdose deaths in Ontario jails since 2008.