FORT WORTH (CN) – A Texas sheriff Wednesday said he’s committed 140 deputies to search for teenage “affluenza” killer Ethan Couch, but fears he has fled the country.
Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said his office’s fugitive unit started searching for Couch, 18, after Tarrant County Juvenile Services issued the juvenile equivalent of an arrest warrant on Tuesday.
“My personal belief is he has probably run some distance,” Anderson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Wednesday evening. “I fear he has had a pretty good head start. Reports are his mother is gone also, and I don’t think they are going to be found locally.”
Anderson said it will be tough to find Couch, given “the wealth and the wherewithal his family has,” according to The Dallas Morning News.
An arrest warrant was issued after Couch failed to check in with his probation officer. His attorneys said authorities had been unable to reach him or his mother, Tonya, for several days.
Couch and the judge in his case, Jean Boyd, sparked national outrage when Boyd sentenced him to 10 years probation and therapy for killing four people while driving drunk in 2013. Couch smashed into them as they helped the driver of a stranded vehicle on the side of a road in south Fort Worth.
Couch, then 16, was drunk on stolen beer when he killed mother and daughter Hollie and Shelby Boyles, youth pastor Brian Jennings and Breanna Mitchell. He was driving 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 that there was no rational link between behavior and consequences. Miller said that Couch’s parents gave him “freedoms no young person should have.”
New outrage in the case began two weeks ago when a 6-second video was posted on Twitter, claiming to show Couch playing beer pong with three other young men. Couch is banned from drinking alcohol under terms of his probation. He faces up to 10 years in state prison if he is found to have committed a violation. Tarrant County authorities have confirmed they are investigating the video.
“It’s one of those times when you hate to say, ‘I told you so,’ but I told you so,” Sheriff Anderson told the Morning News. “I knew he was going to end up in more trouble.”
The sheriff asked the public to call (817) 884-1213 if anyone has information about Couch’s whereabouts. He said that if his office had a Top 10 Wanted list, Couch would be No. 1.
“My personal belief is when that video came out, I feel he felt like he violated his probation, and I believe that was the trigger that caused him to up and run,” Anderson told the Star-Telegram.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving on Wednesday also asked for public help find Couch.
“Affluenza aside, Ethan Couch appears to show blatant disregard for the law, and he must be held accountable,” MADD president Colleen Sheehey-Church said in a statement. “The families impacted will never have their loved ones back. Ethan Couch must have consequences for his actions.”
Anderson said Couch “ruined a lot of lives” and that he is determined to “make sure he is fully accountable within the boundaries” in the juvenile case.
“He needs to be brought back,” the sheriff said.
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