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Sunday, May 19, 2024 | Back issues
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‘Affluenza’ Killer Arrested With Mother in Mexico

FORT WORTH (CN) - Teenage "affluenza" killer Ethan Couch and his mother were arrested in Mexico Monday night after spending two weeks on the run.

Couch, 18, and his mother, Tonya, 48, were detained by Mexican authorities on Monday night, on a street corner in the Pacific resort town of Puerto Vallarta. Prosecutors in Jalisco state notified ABC News, and the information spread like wildfire around the world.

Couch, who killed four people in 2013 while driving drunk on stolen beer, went on the run this month after he failed to check in with a probation officer.

He and his mother vanished after a Twitter user posted a video that appears to show him playing beer pong. He is prohibited from drinking while on probation.

Couch has eight years of probation remaining on his sentence, but prosecutors said Tuesday he'll only spend four months in jail for fleeing to Mexico as long as his case remains in juvenile court. Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said at a press conference that she is bound by Boyd's sentence in juvenile court.

"That probation can be revoked - it is an anomaly of Texas law that if we revoke his juvenile sentence he would be held at a juvenile facility until his 19th birthday, which is April 11, 2016," Wilson told reporters Tuesday morning. "His maximum sentence is four months in confinement. That, in my opinion, is not a sufficient punishment for the taking of four lives."

Wilson said she will ask the juvenile court to transfer his case to an adult criminal court next month "and into the adult system where we no longer have to be concerned with the best interests of the child."

Only if Couch violates probation again in the adult system will he face more jail time - 10 years for each of his four intoxication manslaughter convictions, Wilson said.

"I wish the system were different," she said. "Our system of law means the best result in this cause would be - in our opinion - to get him in adult court."

Wilson said Couch's mother will be charged with felony hindering apprehension and could face up to 10 years in state prison.

Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson told reporters the Couches did "what we thought all along" - that they carefully planned to disappear.

"They even had what you would call a 'going away' party before they left town," Anderson said. "Our suspicion that his mother was helping him was true, so we followed those leads. The information we received really turned on Christmas Eve, when concrete information came in."

The sheriff said Couch's father, Fred, denied any involvement in Couch's disappearance and has cooperated with investigators. Anderson said Couch is now an adult as far as the state as concerned.

"I would like him in adult prison," he said.

The sheriff also said Couch is suspected to be one of the teenagers in the beer pong video, but there is no concrete proof other than receiving information that he was at the party the night the video was taken.

The Couches are being held at immigration offices in Guadalajara on Tuesday and will be placed on a commercial flight to Houston later in the day, Mexican officials told The Associated Press.

Couch's attorneys, Scott Brown and Wm. Reagan Wynn in Fort Worth, said they have not spoken with their client.

"We do not anticipate being able to do so unless and until he arrives in the United States," they said in a written statement Tuesday morning. "Until we have more information concerning this situation, it would not be producent for us to make any further public statement."

Couch and former Texas state Judge Jean Boyd sparked national outrage in 2013 when she sentenced him to 10 years probation and therapy for driving drunk and killing four people on the side of a road in south Fort Worth.

The young man killed mother and daughter Hollie and Shelby Boyles, youth pastor Brian Jennings and Breanna Mitchell. He was driving a truck as much as 30 mph over the speed limit and had a blood alcohol level of 0.24 - three times the legal limit for adults. It is illegal for a minor to drive with any alcohol in his system.

Defense psychologist G. Dick Miller testified at trial that Couch was a product of " affluenza:" that his family felt their wealth bought privilege and there was no rational link between behavior and consequences. Miller said Couch's parents gave him "freedoms no young person should have."

Public outrage returned this month when Tarrant County authorities announced they were investigating Couch after the beer pong video surfaced.

Couch's family settled the last of several civil lawsuits against them in October.

They agreed to pay the family of Lucas McConnell $60,000 in annuity payments for his college education and $35,000 in attorneys' fees. Lucas was seriously injured while riding with Jennings when they pulled over to help a disabled vehicle before the crash.

Follow @davejourno
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