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Officials: ‘Affluenza’ teen, mother planned flight to Mexico

  • This undated photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service, shows Ethan Couch. The U.S. Marshals Service have joined the search for Couch, a teenager who was serving probation for killing four people in a 2013 drunken-driving wreck after invoking the “affluenza” defense, an argument that his wealthy parents coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility. (U.S. Marshals Service via AP)

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    This Dec. 28, 2015 photo released by Mexico’s Jalisco state prosecutor’s office shows who authorities identify as Ethan Couch, after he was taken into custody in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

DALLAS » A Texas teenage fugitive and his mother attempted to disguise themselves and disappear among the American tourists who flocked to a Mexican resort city for the holidays, but are now in custody and set for deportation to the U.S., authorities said today.

Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said 18-year-old Ethan Couch — known for invoking an “affluenza” defense after he killed four people in a drunken driving wreck — and his mother had prepared to be gone a while, even dying Couch’s blond hair black, before being detained Monday in the Pacific Coast city of Puerto Vallarta.

“They had planned to disappear. They even had something that was almost akin to a going-away party before leaving town,” Anderson said. He would not give details about the event including how many people attended.

Couch was on juvenile probation for the wreck when he was 16. During the sentencing phase of his trial, a defense expert argued that his wealthy parents coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility — a condition the expert termed “affluenza.” The condition is not recognized as a medical diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, and its invocation drew ridicule.

Anderson said Couch and his mother, Tonya Couch, apparently crossed the border in her pickup and drove to Puerto Vallarta. The U.S. Marshals found the two in Mexico, and worked with Mexican agencies to apprehend them. It was not clear whether they had any accomplices.

No immediate charges were planned for others who may have known about or assisted with the flight plan, Anderson said. He said authorities have no evidence that Couch’s father was involved.

Jalisco state prosecutor Eduardo Almaguer Ramirez said U.S. authorities knew the mother and son were in Puerto Vallarta and had asked Mexican police to help capture them. Mexican detectives started searching on Dec. 24 and caught up with them at about 6 p.m. Monday. The pair did not resist arrest.

Almaguer Ramirez said Couch and his mother stayed first at a resort known as Los Tules, near the beach. Prosecutors say a woman who worked there helped authorities capture the pair.

They were found in a dowdy section of Puerto Vallarta’s old town, far from the glitzy resorts, golf courses and high-rise hotels of the newer section. The street corner where they were found is dotted with a small sandwich shop, a taco stand, and a mom-and-pop corner store.

Anderson noted that Ethan Couch’s hair was “markedly different.” A photo distributed by the Jalisco state prosecutor’s office shows him in detention with his blond hair dyed black and his normally blondish beard now brown.

The sheriff has said he believes the two fled in late November after a video surfaced that appears to show Couch at a party where people were drinking. If found to be drinking, Couch’s probation could be revoked and he could face up to four months in jail. Once returned to Texas, Couch will be held in a Tarrant County facility until a probation violation hearing next month.

Anderson said an arrest warrant was being issued for Tonya Couch on charges of hindering an apprehension, a third-degree felony that carries a sentence of two to 10 years in prison. Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said that at the hearing she plans to ask a judge to transfer Ethan Couch’s case to adult court.

Couch would then face up to 120 days in an adult jail, followed by 10-year probation. If he violates probation, he could face up to 10 years in prison per death, Wilson said.

If the judge declines to transfer Couch to adult court, Wilson will ask that his probation be revoked, in which case he could be held in a juvenile facility until his sentence expires when he turns 19 next April.

Couch’s attorneys, Scott Brown and Reagan Wynn, said they won’t comment until they speak with him, which likely won’t happen before Couch reaches the U.S.

Ricardo Ariel Vera, the representative of Mexico’s immigration institute in Jalisco state, said the mother and son were being held at immigration offices in Guadalajara and would be returned to the United States aboard a commercial flight to Houston.

“They are going to be sent back to their country, given that they were in Mexico improperly,” Ariel Vera said. “They would have had to enter, for example, as tourists, but they entered without registering.”

He initially said that would happen Tuesday; however, another immigration official who is not allowed to be quoted by name told The Associated Press that there were no seats available on commercial flights and the return would be Wednesday.

Couch was driving drunk and speeding on a road south of Fort Worth in June 2013 when he crashed into a disabled SUV off to the side, killing four people and injuring several others, including passengers in his pickup truck.

He pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury. A judge sentenced him in juvenile court to 10 years’ probation and a stint in a rehabilitation center.

Authorities had begun searching for the pair after Ethan Couch missed a mandatory appointment with his probation officer on Dec. 10.

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  • Here’s hoping the “mother” gets LWOP and the son gets extensive hard time in an adult prison. RIP to his 4 victims and their families. Those Texas wussy prosecutors have a lot to answer for. “Don’t mess with Texas?”; give us a break and try this a*&wipe in a manly state like Rhode Island.

  • Dude looks like any other baby white supremacist meth head in that shot, don’t he? Scrawny stash and goatee, best he can do with his Low-T. Texas sure breeds some doozies.

  • The “affluenza” defense is based on the parents being responsible for the decisions of their children. Therefore, the parents should be sentenced for the crimes committed by their irresponsible children. One could extend this defense theory to children killing others because, for example, their parents are neo-nazis or racists who raised their children to hate and kill people they consider inferior. Whoa! This is a slippery slope.

  • This story reminds me of my wife’s troubled friend and her family. The spoiled, favored son, at age 12 had occasionally driven his drunk dad home through back roads. He started using drugs at home. At 23, he offered his 13yo cousin his first line of coke. His mom said “I’d rather my kids do drugs and alcohol at home, than out somewhere else.” After Grandma’s birthday party, this guy crashed into and totaled another man’s car, gravely injuring him(My teenage daughter had pleaded twice that night to ride along with him, and we said no, thank goodness). After leading the cops on a wild chase, he was arrested. While on bond, he jumped bail and escaped to Alaska. His parents were in phone contact with him when he was on the lam. Cops finally captured him there months later on a speeding charge. This guy was extradited back and went to jail. He’s in his 40s now, been in and out of jail after that. His kids and the women in his life suffered through his troubled life with cocaine and meth.
    Both parents facilitated his rocky life of failed businesses and personal disasters. He and his siblings are in their 40s and 50s now, and still addicted to drugs or alcohol. With Dad, his choice is alcohol and gambling. These parents will enable them until the day they die. It just blows my mind what I know about this family, and I don’t know all about what goes on in their lives.

    • Parental skills of whose generation? Baby boomers were spoiled by the greatest generation and now we are sowing the seeds for more problems for the future. Affluenza is another off-shoot, too much money! What happened to good old discipline and structured life-style? Bahh, humbug no fun and it feels awkward! If it feels good do it! Dr. Spock, let the kid express himself and do not repress his feeling and thoughts? By the way I’m 90.

      • cojef, I think we Baby Boomers were the first generation to spare the rod and spoil the child. BTW, congrats on your long life. When you pass on, please have someone in your family let us know. I know we’ll miss you.

        • I am sorry but this generation is the problem one. This is the “feel good” generation. We don’t want any child to feel bad so they all need to have an award and not be held back if they don’t do well in school. That is why there are high school students that can’t even read!

  • Another gun toting I hate immigrants, white bread Trump, Bush lovin republican trailer trash, privileged duck dynasty Fox news watching, duggar fan example of what is wrong in this country.

      • Well Ruplicans complain of how everyone else but them are responsible for the crimes committed never mind shooting friend’s in thee face on a hunting trip with a charge. Or how about allegedly moslesting children including your siblings and no arrest wwas made. Rupblicans like to quote the bible but don’t really follow any of it.

  • Since the young person violated the conditions of his parole do you really think the state of Texass will lock him up for the 10 years he was sentenced too but put on probation due to being rich? Not a chance.

  • Arrest Mother and convict her and throw her in jail! Without his Mom bailing him out of scrapes he will not survive. She is the key to his moral conduct if you could it that. His father is another piece of sh-t!

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