The two candidates for Porter County coroner are accustomed to working with the deceased.
Cyndi Dykes, 57, of Valparaiso, is a certified histology technician at Porter Regional Hospital. Randy Wilkening, 53, of Portage, is a firefighter and paramedic with the Portage Fire Department.
Both said they would continue to work on death prevention as well as follow-ups after the fact.
The fire department is seeing a big increase in suffocation and strangulation deaths with infants, Wilkening said. The state is teaching first responders what to look for, including whether the sleeping space is safe.
“A big problem is cribs,” Wilkening said.
An Indiana Department of Homeland Security initiative offers a class on safe sleeping habits and giving participants, whether parents or grandparents, a free crib for completing the course.
“They just want to give the cribs away so the infants can be safe,” Wilkening said.
Dykes said she is in and out of the morgue, which is housed at the hospital where she works, sometimes three times a day, so she knows the pathologists. She has assisted in autopsies of all types, too, she said.
Dykes is concerned about the waiting time for toxicology tests, which can take up to six weeks. That can cause problems with settling estates and getting insurance payments, she said.
“You can’t do anything when you don’t have a cause of death on the death certificate,” she said. “Sometimes that toxicology changes everything.”
Dykes said she would see whether other labs, especially other local ones, could offer results sooner.
Wilkening said the coroner’s office doesn’t need big changes.
“They’ve been acting in a professional manner,” he said.
“The biggest thing I want to get involved with is death education and prevention,” Wilkening said.
“I’m on the front lines of the war on drugs. I’ve been giving Narcan for 30 years,” he said.
As a captain, Wilkening said, he’s usually the one who sits down with the family after a death to explain what happened and what to expect next. That happens an average of about once a week, he said.
“I’m really leaning more about the opioid and heroin and other unnecessary deaths we have in the county,” Dykes said.