Ethan Couch, ‘affluenza teen,’ freed from Texas jail

April 3, 2018

Ethan Couch, whose trial for killing four people while driving drunk sparked widespread conversations about the privilege of being raised wealthy, was released from a Texas jail on Monday after nearly two years.

Couch, 20, became known as the “affluenza teen” after a psychologist suggested during his trial that growing up with money might have left him with psychological afflictions, too rich to tell right from wrong. He attracted further attention when he and his mother, Tonya Couch, fled to Mexico in an effort to evade possible jail time.

He served his 720-day sentence in a jail in Tarrant County, and was freed about a week before his 21st birthday.

Tonya Couch, 50, had been freed on bond while awaiting trial on a felony charge of hindering apprehension. But she was arrested last week after the authorities said she failed a drug test, violating the conditions of her bond, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Ethan Couch was 16 in June 2013 when he and a group of friends stole beer from a store and had a party at his parents’ house before going for a drive. He struck and killed four people on the side of a road near Burleson, Texas, a Fort Worth suburb, and a passenger in his car was paralyzed and suffered brain damage.

He had a blood alcohol level of 0.24, three times the legal limit in Texas, hours after the crash.

He pleaded guilty in 2013 to four counts of manslaughter and a juvenile court judge sentenced him to 10 years of probation, defying prosecutors who sought a 20-year prison sentence. The victims’ families were outraged, and critics felt he got special treatment because of his wealth.

In December 2015, a 6-second video that appeared to show Couch at a party where alcohol was served — a possible parole violation — was posted on Twitter. Two weeks later, he and his mother went missing.

— (The New York Times)

They were arrested about two weeks later, about 1,200 miles away in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where they had changed their appearances and ditched their identifications. Couch was brought back to Texas and placed in juvenile detention, while his case was moved to adult court.

In April 2016, Dee Anderson, Tarrant County’s sheriff, said Couch had created “zero issues” since beginning his jail stint that January.

“I do believe Ethan Couch is not the same person he was when he came to jail,” he said. “The time he’s spent, it’s a rude awakening for anyone.”

Under the terms of his probation, Couch will not be permitted to drive or drink alcohol, and cannot leave the Fort Worth area without approval from probation or court officials. He must look for a job and perform community service.

In a statement, Mothers Against Drunk Driving said it was “small consolation” that Couch would remain on probation.

“Two years in jail for four people killed is a grave injustice to the victims and their families who have been dealt life sentences because of one person’s devastating decision to drink and drive,” the organization said. “The 720 days Ethan Couch served for his crimes shows that drunk driving homicides still aren’t treated as the violent crimes that they are.” — (The New York Times)