FORT WORTH (CN) – The parents of the teenage “affluenza” driver who killed four people have settled the last civil lawsuit filed by his victims.
Ethan Couch was 16 when he killed four good Samaritans and injured others who had stopped to help change a tire. Couch was driving 70 mph in a 40 mph zone and his blood alcohol content of 0.24 – on stolen beer – was three times the legal limit for an adult. He received no jail time – but plenty of public outrage – after a defense psychologist called him a product of affluenza: privilege through family money.
On Friday a Tarrant County judge accepted the final judgment and settlement from the last of Couch’s victims, Kevin and Alesia McConnell and their son Lucas, who was injured. They sued the Couch family and Cleburne Metal Works LLC in October 2013. Lucas was 13 when he was hurt.
Lucas was riding with youth pastor Brian Jennings in June 2013 when they stopped to help a disabled vehicle in south Fort Worth. Couch plowed into the crowd of good Samaritans, killing mother and daughter Hollie and Shelby Boyles, Brian Jennings and Breanna Mitchell, according to the six civil lawsuits filed against the family.
State District Judge Jean Boyd sentenced Couch to 10 years probation and therapy, sparking weeks of national outrage.
Boyd apparently believed the testimony of defense psychologist Dr. G. Dick Miller, who said Couch and his family felt their wealth bought privilege and that there was no rational link between behavior and consequences.
Miller testified that Couch’s parents gave him “freedoms no young person should have.”
On Friday, state District Judge R. H. Wallace Jr. approved the settlement of the McConnells’ lawsuit.
Lucas will receive $60,000 in periodic annuity payments for his college education, according to the 4-page judgment. The family’s attorneys were awarded $35,000 in fees and Lucas’s guardian ad litem, attorney Tom Hall, $2,100 in fees.
Hall commended the McConnell parents for giving “everything” to their son.
“It’s about protecting the child’s interest, and the parents were very selfless,” Hall told ABC affiliate WFAA. “Lucas is making a strong recovery, and I’m happy he’s doing well as he is overcoming this terrible tragedy.”
The McConnells were the last holdouts among the victims who sued. The plaintiffs in the other lawsuits settled their claims in early 2014.
Criticism of Judge Boyd’s light sentence and the affluenza – or spoiled brat – defense, was swift, with Texas lawmakers seeking changes in the law. Former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who was 3 years old when he lost his father to a drunken driver, directed the Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice to study sentencing of probation in intoxication manslaughter cases.
“Having lost my own father to a drunk driver in my youth, I have a particular interest in this issue because I know the devastation it causes ,” Dewhurst said at the time.
In explaining his affluenza diagnosis, Miller testified that Ethan’s parents failed to punish the boy after police ticketed him for being found with an undressed and passed-out 14-year-old girl in his truck. He added that Ethan’s parents let him drive when he was 13 years old.
Boyd told Couch at sentencing that he is responsible for the deaths, but that she believed he would not receive the therapy he needs in jail. Couch faced up to 20 years in state prison.
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