Porter County Sheriff's Department


What's Happening at The Porter County Sheriff's Department

 

The National Academies of Emergency Dispatch Journal Story

 

True Friends- Coworkers (back row from left to right) Kathryn Sepiol, Paige Connelly, Jenny Buczkowski and Gina Miko

continue to comfort Nancy Jenkins, whose daughter, Kelly (pictured) was killed in a car accident.

 

Life Cut Short. Tragedy shows dispatcher the best people can give.

Tragedy has a way of bringing out the best in people. We want to console and, in a world crushed by profound loss. We want to do more than simply say, I’m sorry.”

For Nancy Jenkins, a dispatcher for Porter County (Ind.) 911, personal tragedy showed her the generosity of a town where she was born, attended school, married, and raised two children. The kindness of coworkers, friends, and neighbors has continued long after the darkest moment of her life.

“They are here for me,” Nancy said. “During the times I didn’t want to live, they helped me move on.”

Jenkins lost her older daughter Kelly (Mercaldo) in October 2008. The junior at Valparaiso High School (Ind.) was a passenger in a speeding car that went airborne over an elevated railroad crossing. The 16-year-old National Honor Society member was critically injured, her neck broken from the force of the crash against a tree.

Due to the severity of her injury, Kelly was airlifted to a trauma center in Oak Lawn, ILL. Nancy, who was visiting out of town when the accident occurred, knew the prognosis could be bleak. The plane she was able to catch, thanks to the diligence of coworkers, brought her to Kelly’s bedside.

“The dispatchers got me home that night,” Nancy said, noting the dozens of calls made to her cell phone before coworkers finally made contact over the hotel line.  “Had they not tracked me down, I may have never seen Kelly during those final hours.”

Fourteen hundred people attended Kelly’s funeral, including every single teacher she had since kindergarten. The three flower shops in town ran out of flowers. Dispatcher from a neighboring county offered to fill in during their off time so everyone from Porter County 911 could attend services. A memorial bench placed in the high school courtyard, funded through dispatcher and police officer donations, bears Kelly’s favorite symbol, a peace sign. Friend’s still leave messages on Kelly’s My’Space page.

Nancy attributes the concern and the tremendous outpouring of support to the lifetime spent in Valparaiso and Kelly’s popularity. Nancy has been a dispatcher for the past nine years and the girls’ father, Vic Mercaldo, has been a firefighter/paramedic for 20 years. Their daughter Abby is a sophomore at the same high school.

“Our family is part of the county’s fabric,” Nancy said. “The girls grew up here, everyone knows us.”

Nancy took two months away from work, coming back when she could no longer endure the silence when alone at home and the feeling that Kelly was coming through the door every time she heard it open. She needed work away from home as a break from her bleak reality.

Nancy and Abby have good days and bad. A good day might be marked by a few words or a hug exchanged between close friends. A bad day might be a call Nancy takes at the 9-1-1 center keenly reminding her of Kelly’s accident. When overwhelmed, a coworker will take over, giving her a moment of respite.

Nancy has a hard time finding the right words when saying ‘thank you’ doesn’t seem enough. Sometimes, she believes Kelly is doing the job for her. “She leaves me a piece sign,” Nancy said. “She wants us to know she’s good. She wants us to know we’ll be all right.

 

National Academies of Emergency Dispatch

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