Addiction killed 3-year-old Brody Debenning, his loved ones said Monday.
The toddler was in the back seat when his mother, 36-year-old Heather Ruopp, hit an oncoming truck while driving under the influence of drugs Aug. 18.
Brody died from his injuries, and Ruopp pleaded guilty Monday to vehicular homicide and vehicular assault.
Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend gave her a high-end sentence of four years, five months in prison — what the defense and prosecution recommended.
Jamie Ward, a family acquaintance whom Brody lived with for about four months in 2015 while Ruopp was trying to get her life together, addressed the court at sentencing.
“You wanted the best for him,” she told Ruopp. “This was your final chance. … You messed up, and there’s no going back now.”
Ward brought pictures of the toddler to court, along with a couple of the toys he liked best. She held up a stuffed elf for Arend to see, then a stuffed snowman backpack from the movie “Frozen” that Brody used to carry his Hot Wheels cars.
Ward was a short-term caregiver, but she knows the sort of things a parent would.
Some of Brody’s favorite foods were gummy fruit snacks and chocolate granola bars. He loved any kind of juice, and he liked it when Ward’s kids gave him rides in their toy wagon.
Her family taught him about football, and he learned how to throw his arms in the air to signal touchdowns.
He called his baby blanket Mimi.
“I hope you spend this time in jail thinking about what you took from everyone, including yourself,” Ward told Ruopp.
Ruopp told the court she takes responsibility for what happened, and that she had struggled in the months before the wreck to cope with her mother’s death.
As for the death of her son: “The pain I feel is excruciating,” she said.
There’s some comfort, Ruopp said, in knowing that Brody’s organs were donated to save other children.
The accident doesn’t define her, she said, and she hopes to be able to grieve with her three other children one day.
Blood tests showed she had methamphetamine, amphetamine and Zolpidem (commonly used as a sleep aid) in her system at the time of the crash.
Ward said outside court that she and others who helped care for Brody off-and-on are single parents, and that they lost contact with the toddler after he and Ruopp moved to drug-free housing in early 2016.
“We’ve learned,” Ward said. “We were moms trying to save a child from the system. In the end, I feel guilty for not calling (child protective services).”
Ruopp had people rooting for her to succeed as a mother, said Melinda Macy, an acquaintance who helped care for Brody.
“We just did our best trying to help her,” Macy said.
But in the end, she said, Ruopp let addiction win.