Toddler killed in DUI crash remembered by Pierce County law enforcement and DUI patrols

Pierce County law enforcement officers and foster parents are remembering a 3-year-old boy killed in a drugged driving crash.

Police say toddler Brody Debenning’s mother was driving under the influence of three drugs, one including meth. Brody was with her when she crashed in 2016.

Now, law enforcement across Pierce County will be stepping up DUI patrols in the toddler’s honor to try and prevent another life from getting cut short. They also remembered him at an event with several of his foster parents Saturday night.

“He [was] so full of love, and he was always silly, always laughing,” said Janessa Gervais, one of Brody Debenning’s foster moms. She cared for him from ages 9 months to 2 and a half years old.

“He was a fun, loving, energetic little boy,” said Jamie Ward, who was Brody’s foster mom for six months after Gervais. Ward is also friends with Gervais.

Brody was killed two years ago on Aug. 18, 2016.

Police say his biological mom, Heather Ruopp, claimed she was clean and took Brody back from his foster mom at the time.

Shortly after, Ruopp was driving with Brody, crossed the center lane, and crashed head-on into a truck near the 2800 block of South Yakima Avenue in Tacoma.

“Her blood results came back positive for amphetamine, methamphetamine and Zolpidem (a sleep aid),” said John Cheesman, the Fircrest Police Chief, and chair of the Pierce County Traffic Safety Task Force.

Brody suffered a spinal fracture and didn't survive.

“After a month-long battle, Brody died on Sept. 16,” Cheesman said.

“Didn't get a funeral, didn't get to say goodbye. Nothing. He was taken too young. He doesn't get to get married, go to high school, experience the prom, things we all take for granted for our kids,” Gervais said, tearing up.

His foster moms say the hardest part is knowing Brody's death was preventable.

“There was no excuse for him to be in the car, none,” Gervais said. “She had backup. She had all of us, any single one of us would’ve taken him for her that day.”

Prosecutors say they're seeing more DUI deaths, and most of those fatalities are caused by drivers with multiple drugs in their system.

From 2012 to 2016,  multiple drug or “poly” DUIs went up every year by 15 percent.

“We used to have addicts that had one favorite drug that was easily accessible to them, but now everything is more accessible and they're combining them,” said Miriam Norman, the traffic safety resource prosecutor for King County.

Between now and Labor Day law enforcement across Washington will be doing extra DUI patrols. In Pierce County, the officers will be working in honor of Brody – a little boy who loved stuffed toys, Hot Wheels, and animals.

“I know we cannot bring Brody back, but I also know we are saving many others,” Chief Cheesman said.

“It’s bittersweet, but it's something. At least we can say hey it's for Brody,” Ward said.

The Tacoma Police Department was never able to find a grave for Brody. Sunday, the department gave the two foster moms who cared for him a tree in his honor.

Last year in 2017, drivers under the influence killed 250 people in Washington.

Extra patrols across the state will be going on until Sept. 3.