Hamilton

'Help me. Hold me': Inmate's last hours so dramatic that a bystander prayed for him

The first time Marty Tykoliz overdosed in the Barton Jail, Sean Coyne says, it was so traumatic that he got on his knees and prayed for him.

Marty Tykoliz, who overdosed twice in as many days, is one of 8 cases in the Barton Jail inquest

Marty Tykoliz, 38, yelled "hold me, hold me, help" as he was taken to hospital after his first overdose, says a fellow inmate. (Flora Pan/CBC)

The first time Marty Tykoliz overdosed in the Barton Jail, Sean Coyne says, it was so traumatic that he got on his knees and prayed for him.

Coyne served 72 days in the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre in 2014. He was in the same unit as Marty Tykoliz, one of eight inmates who died of opioid overdoses from 2012 to 2016.

Coyne said Tykoliz was face down on a mattress on the floor. Tykoliz had partied so hard with his cell mate that day, Coyne said, that their crack cocaine smoking set off the fire alarm.

"I went back and sat on my bunk," Coyne recalled of that moment on May 5, 2014. "I put my dinner on the floor. I got off my bunk and I got on my knees, and I … I … I started praying for Tyk's wellbeing."

When paramedics wheeled Tykoliz away, Coyne heard him gurgling, "like with mouthwash, when you tilt your head back and you're gargling.

"But as I heard that gurgling sound, Tyk was saying, 'Hold me. Hold me. Help. No, hold me. Cold.'"

When Marty Tykoliz was taken to hospital after his second overdose, medical workers found 49 pills, 4.5 grams of heroin and 7.1 grams of marijuana hidden on him. The pills included heroin, methadone, diazepam and morphine. (Photo exhibit)

Coyne's dramatic testimony was the halfway point of a six-week coroner's inquest into the deaths of eight men. The inquest is aimed at preventing future jail deaths. A five-member jury could make recommendations on how to do that.

Coyne told his story via a 2014 videotaped interview with police. He died of cancer last year at age 47.

His account highlighted a common theme throughout the inquest — that drugs are rampant in the under-resourced, understaffed Barton Jail.

Coyne said the day before Tykoliz's May 5 overdose, Tykoliz and his cell mate smoked crack in plain sight in the day room. Coyne was in awe.

"Are you kidding me?" Coyne told a fellow inmate. "In jail? People are smoking crack in a jail?"

He woke up Monday morning — the day Tykoliz overdosed — and smelled crack cocaine again at 8:30 a.m. When the smoke set off the fire alarm, Coyne said, it was "just hilarious, everyone thought."

Tykoliz survived that Monday afternoon overdose — at least temporarily. He was taken to Hamilton General Hospital, where he stayed for about three hours. When he returned, he was strip searched and put in a segregation cell.

'Breakfast not eaten'

Correctional officer John Degner testified Wednesday that he worried about Tykoliz throughout the night. When he checked on him at 6:11 a.m. May 6, the log shows, he found him "on bed on back awake." Then Degner's shift ended, and he went home.

The 7:44 a.m. log entry says Tykoliz was "snoring, appears asleep." Twenty-five minutes later, it notes "breakfast not eaten."

At 9:08 a.m., Tykoliz was found unresponsive. At the hospital, police found a blue plastic wrapped bundle under Tykoliz's buttocks containing 49 pills, 4.5 grams of heroin and 7.1 grams of marijuana. The pills included heroin, methadone, diazepam and morphine.

He suffered multiple organ failure that day. Around 1:15 a.m. May 7, his family removed his life support. He died an hour later. He was 38.

Coyne wasn't the only one who described the jail's rampant drug culture.

'Come on, Marty, breathe'

Correctional officer Tom Gaffney testified that he often smelled marijuana, cigarettes or "burning wicks" — tightly rolled toilet paper lit on fire to use as a long-lasting lighter.

But the jail was so short staffed, he said, that he couldn't gather enough guards together to do a search. Officers would note the smell of pot in the log. Otherwise, they had to let it go.

The province has since hired more guards, Gaffney said, and the situation has improved.

Mary-Lou Mackie-Tomlin was a sergeant on the day of Tykoliz's final overdose. Inmates were yelling through their doors, she recalled. They shouted, "Come on, Marty, breathe."

She liked Tykoliz, she said. "He used to make me laugh."

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca