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Montana Toddler Died in Hot Car After Mom Attended Party, Then Overslept — and Mother Gets 20 Years

Chris Harris
·3-min read

Facebook Caleb Hopkins

A 21-year-old Montana mother, convicted of negligent homicide in her toddler son's 2018 hot car death, was sentenced this week to 20 years in prison, PEOPLE confirms.

On Monday, two months after jurors found her responsible for her 2-year-old son's death, Ashley Howard was in court to learn her fate, according to court records.

A judge ruled Howard would spend the next 20 years in the Montana State Women's Prison in Billings.

Howard will get credit for the two years the Glendive woman has already spent in custody.

She initially pleaded not guilty to the negligent homicide of Caleb Hopkins, who spent over eight hours inside her car back in late June 2018.

The Billings Gazette reports Howard left Caleb in her car the evening of June 25, 2018. She would not go to retrieve him until 1 p.m. the following afternoon.

Authorities said Howard spent the night partying with friends, and the next day, sleeping off a hangover.

Meanwhile, her son was inside her vehicle for 14 hours — with the sun blazing for eight of those hours.

Howard rushed the boy to a hospital on June 26, where doctors determined his body temperature was 107 degrees.

Dawson County Sheriff’s Department Ashley Howard

Heatstroke begins when body temperatures reach 104 degrees.

At the hospital, according to the Gazette, Howard told doctors she found Caleb "wrapped in a blanket."

He died two days later after being airlifted to a hospital in Billings, where he spent his final hours on life support.

Caleb died from hyperthermia caused from overheating.

According to KULR-TV, prosecutors noted at the sentencing Howard had never taken responsibility for what happened to Caleb.

Howard, the station reports, addressed the court prior to learning her sentence.

"I struggle with saying that I killed my son," she explained, "because nobody wants to be the reason their son is no longer here. I miss him every day. I know that I will always love my son and I will always miss him."

Caleb's grandmother, Marsha Hopkins, also spoke at the hearing.

"You will have to live with the fact that you alone killed Caleb," Hopkins said in her admonishment. "Do I think that you meant to? No. Do I think that you could have prevented it? Absolutely. You knew what could have happened if you left him in the car, and you made that choice."

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Upon her release, Howard will spend ten years on parole.

On average, 26 percent of U.S. hot car deaths are the result of children getting into vehicles on their own and not being able to get out, KidsandCars.org reported.

To avoid hot car deaths, KidsandCars.org recommends parents keep their vehicles locked at all times, never leave car keys within reach of children, and teach children to honk the horn if they become stuck inside a car.