A Wal-Mart worker held a toddler last December while reviewing video of a woman shoplifting in Macon’s Harrison Road store.
“Mama, mama,” the boy said, pointing when he saw his mother on the screen.
Ashley Lynn Heichelbech, 25, pleaded guilty to shoplifting and criminal attempt to commit cruelty to a child Friday in Bibb County Superior Court.
She was sentenced to five years on probation and 180 days in a detention center. As a special condition of probation, Heichelbech must complete a nine-to 12-month drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.
Heichelbech caught the attention of store workers on the afternoon of Dec. 2 while meandering down aisles and trying to hide merchandise in a bag, prosecutor Nancy Scott Malcor said.
Her 1-year-old son sat in the front of the buggy as she pretended to wait in line at a register and later “brazenly” pushed the cart out the front of the store without paying, Malcor said.
When approached by store workers, Heichelbech looked at them for a moment, then grabbed a bottle of soda from the cart and took off running, leaving her child behind.
In keeping with Wal-Mart policy, the workers didn’t chase Heichelbech, watching as she ran.
“They kept waiting on the defendant to realize she’s run off without her child and turn around and come back,” Malcor said. “She did not.”
Heichelbech was arrested the following day at a nearby gas station.
The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services had already removed the toddler from Heichelbech’s care before the episode, Malcor said. The boy, who was in a relative’s care at the time, now has a new guardian, she said.
Heichelbech has given birth to another child since her arrest. That child also has been removed from her custody. She’s also mother to another child, Malcor said.
Addressing the judge before her sentencing, Heichelbech said she had been using methamphetamine.
“I wouldn’t have did what I did if I wasn’t on it,” she said. “I was messed up.”
Judge Howard Simms remarked that Heichelbech’s conduct was cowardly.
Even if a grizzly bear was running across the parking lot, “it’s your job to get between it and your child,” he said.
Simms granted Heichelbech’s request to be sentenced as a first offender. If she successfully completes her sentence, she won’t have a felony record. If she violates probation, she can be resentenced to prison.
As part of her sentence, she must pay a $500 fine and $500 for her court-appointed lawyer.
Heichelbech also is barred from having unsupervised contact with children.
“You don’t need to have anything to do with your children or anybody else’s children ever again,” Simms said. “You, ma’am, are not fit to be a parent, ever.”