A former YMCA day care employee told a judge Monday she had left addiction long behind since she was arrested for using drugs in the facility in early 2018.
"I gave up everything to my addiction and became the worst possible version of myself," Autumn Heinz said during her sentencing hearing in Missoula County District Court. "I will never again give my power away and allow a substance to consume me."
Missoula District Judge Robert "Dusty" Deschamps sentenced Heinz to a 20-year commitment with the state Department of Corrections on Monday. She will spend no time in prison, unless she violates the DOC conditions of her supervision, but she is on the hook for more than $461,000 in restitution owed to the YMCA, which had to gut the building to decontaminate the methamphetamine residue.
"You seem to be on the right track, and I don't see any point in locking you up just to punish you," Deschamps said. "You're going to have to carry this cross the rest of your life."
Heinz pleaded guilty in January to endangering the welfare of a child, criminal drug possession and criminal mischief without a sentencing offer from prosecutors. Her sentencing, which required two separate hearings to determine the final restitution amount for damage she caused the facility, was the first time she had a chance to speak on her account.
"I never believed I could inflict so much pain and so much trauma on a single soul, let alone so many," she said, emotional as she read a prepared statement.
The case carried much more weight than a simple possession charge: More than 70 children daily attended the day care where she worked; the "drug den" she constructed there inadvertently caused the meth smoke to disperse throughout the building.
"This is an extreme breach of her duty of care those children," Deputy County Attorney James McCubbin told Deschamps during the hearing.
The damages sought by the YMCA were initially tallied at tens of thousands of dollars more than the final amount agreed upon Monday. At a spirited hearing in March, Heinz's defense attorney had picked out enough questionable items, such as bananas and legal fees associated with seeking insurance coverage, from the restitution request that Deschamps called for more time to suss out the details of the claim.
But on Monday the YMCA was willing to see additional items struck from its claim. YMCA Missoula CEO Heather Foster said after the hearing on Monday, as she did in March, that closure for the families involved was atop the list of priorities for the YMCA, as well as acknowledging the seriousness of drug addiction in the community.
"We have to trust in the court that they made the right decision today," she said. "Hopefully we can all move on and realize what a serious thing this is for our community. It's going to take a lot of conversations to make sure that we can address it appropriately."
Heinz told the judge Monday she no longer lives in Missoula, where she faced "temptations," and is currently working as a server.