Penacook mom sent to jail for raising children around methamphetamine

  • Kayla Austin, 21, pleaded guilty in Merrimack County Superior Court on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018, to two counts of endangering the welfare of a child for exposing her children to methamphetamine. ALYSSA DANDREA / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Wednesday, January 24, 2018

A mother began serving a 90-day jail sentence Tuesday for exposing her two children to methamphetamine in Penacook in summer 2016, resulting in the death of her 2-month-old son.

Kayla Austin, 21, of Penacook pleaded guilty to two counts of endangering the welfare of a child just days after her ex-boyfriend, Bradford Ross, was sentenced to prison on felony drug charges stemming from the same incident.

Each had faced charges of manslaughter and negligent homicide in connection with the child’s death; however, county prosecutors dismissed those charges as part of separate plea deals reached with Austin and Ross.

Two-month-old Cayden Ross died of methamphetamine intoxication Aug. 1, 2016, after living with family for about two weeks in a 14-by-7¾-foot travel camper where investigators say Ross was running a lucrative methamphetamine business.

Assistant Merrimack County Attorney David Rotman told a Merrimack County Superior Court judge Tuesday that even though cellphone records show Ross was leading the illegal operation, Austin was fully aware of what was going on and supported him. At the time, neither parent understood the fatal consequences of their actions, he said.

“The state does not believe that the defendant intended or wanted her own son to die,” Rotman said of Austin, after expressing similar sentiments during Ross’s sentencing last week.

Police responded to the travel camper at 54 Penacook St. after receiving a report of an infant who was unconscious and not breathing. While on scene, police said they observed drug paraphernalia inside the camper and as a result sought a search warrant.

In a sworn affidavit, Concord police Detective Bryan Croft wrote that investigators who responded to the travel camper that day, described the living conditions as “deplorable.” Officers observed pipes; hypodermic needles; ledgers; digital scales; and drugs, including prescription pills and methamphetamine.

Austin and Ross were arrested days later on drug charges. The child’s death remained under investigation for roughly nine months, during which time prosecutors consulted with multiple investigators, state medical examiners and toxicologists before filing manslaughter and negligent homicide charges against the parents.

Rotman said Tuesday that Austin has taken positive steps toward rehabilitation since her initial arrest in August 2016. During her more than 530 days as a participant in the county’s pretrial services program, Austin showed a “level of compliance rarely ever seen,” Rotman said. Her cooperation, young age and clean criminal record were all considered during plea negotiations, he noted.

Austin worked two jobs, submitted to all random drug tests, underwent counseling and took parenting classes while the criminal cases against her were pending, accoridng to Lisa Robinson, a pretrial officer with Merrimack County Pretrial Services.

Following a full investigation by the state’s Division for Children, Youth and Families, Austin has also regained custody of her young daughter, Rotman said.

In accepting the plea deal, Judge Brian Tucker told Austin that the pain and heartache she has suffered – and continues to feel – for the loss of her son is far more significant than any sentence the judicial system can impose.

“Jail time seems almost beside the point here given with what you are going to have to live with for the rest of your life,” he said.

Austin, who was too emotional to address the court, said through her attorney that she doesn’t blame Ross for what happened to Cayden because he was an addict who needed help.

Rotman said he hopes the case will shed light on the dangers of methamphetamine use, not only to the users but to those they care about, including children. He said the resolution of the case against Austin should not be viewed in isolation, but in conjunction with the significant prison sentence Ross received, and serve as a deterrent to others.

While Austin was sentenced to just 90 days to serve, she faces more than a year of suspended jail time, which the court could impose within five years if she commits any further crimes. She will also be on probation for two years following her release.

Ross, 25, is serving a 2½- to five-year state prison sentence for handling methamphetamine in close proximity to his son. Last week, he pleaded guilty to one count each of prohibited conduct and possession of a controlled drug with intent to distribute. He received an additional three- to six-year sentence, all suspended for 15 years as part of a plea agreement.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, adandrea@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)