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The woman who ran over a Missoula police officer with her car while fleeing arrest was sentenced Tuesday to 30 years in prison.

Dawnette Eaton pleaded no contest to a felony assault with a weapon charge stemming from the January incident, when she struck Officer Deni Poling with her car.

Eaton dragged the officer several feet after Poling and her partner approached Eaton in a McDonald’s parking lot about a probation violation.

Poling’s partner, Lt. Rich Stepper, fired one shot into Eaton’s arm in an effort to get her to stop, but Eaton continued driving.

Eaton, whose criminal history includes nine felony charges, accepted a plea agreement in which she entered a guilty plea to fleeing the scene of an accident where someone was hurt or killed. A third felony charge was dismissed.

Tuesday’s sentencing by Missoula District Judge Karen Townsend was preceded by a hearing during which Poling, who suffered serious injuries as a result of the assault, addressed the court to request that Eaton spend at least half of her 30-year sentence in prison.

In a tearful speech, Poling told the court that Eaton’s actions were very careless, reckless and far-reaching.

“I am going to pay for the rest of my life for her actions,” Poling said. “My family will pay for the rest of their lives for her actions, and I think she should have to pay for the rest of her life for her actions.”

Poling told the court that Eaton’s actions negatively affected the entire Missoula Police Department, Stepper and Eaton’s own son – Stephen Goodman. Goodman is now serving a three-year prison sentence for attempting to hide his mother after the assault.

Dawnette’s daughter, Brittany Eaton, also addressed the court, saying her mother’s actions were selfish and wrong on the day that she hit the police officer, but that her life has been one riddled with substance abuse.

“I could tell you all the terrible things my mother has done in one day, but there’s not time enough in the world to tell you all the wonderful things that she has done,” Brittany said.

When her mother was clean she was an excellent mother, but life circumstances triggered a relapse into terrible drug use, Brittany explained.

Dawnette Eaton tearfully read from a prepared statement before her sentencing, saying that she wished she could turn back time and take the place of Poling.

“I’m sorry is something that is often said during sentencing,” Dawnette said. “I wish you could see beyond my words and into my heart.”

Townsend followed the plea agreement in the sentencing, ordering the woman to 10 years in jail for fleeing the scene of an accident and 20 years for running over the police officer, in addition to eight years in Montana Women’s Prison for a probation violation that will run concurrent to the 30-year sentence.

Her only parole restriction will be a mandatory chemical dependency treatment that will precede her release.

“It’s hard for me to think of a situation that was much worse,” Townsend said during the sentencing.

“I understand that addiction monkeys with your head, but you made a choice to use those drugs,” she said. “It’s like you didn’t care at all.”

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Reporter Kathryn Haake can be reached at 523-5268 or at kate.haake@missoulian.com.

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