Texas ‘affluenza’ teen captured in Mexico to be returned to US

Ethan Couch violated his probation in a drunk-driving crash

In a photo from the Jalisco State Attorney General’s office, Ethan Couch, who was arrested by authorities in the resort city of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on December 28th less than three weeks after he and his mother fled Texas. Photograph: The New York Times

In a photo from the Jalisco State Attorney General’s office, Ethan Couch, who was arrested by authorities in the resort city of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on December 28th less than three weeks after he and his mother fled Texas. Photograph: The New York Times

 

A rich Texas teenager who fled with his mother to Mexico to avoid possible jail time for violating his probation in a drunken-driving crash that left four people dead planned the flight and even held a farewell party, US authorities said on Tuesday.

Ethan Couch (18) became known as the “affluenza” teen during his trial in juvenile court over the 2013 crash. He and his mother were captured by Mexican authorities on Monday in the Pacific Coast beach city of Puerto Vallarta. They were likely to be returned to the United States on Wednesday.

During Couch’s trial, a psychologist sparked outrage by saying in his defense that Couch was so wealthy and spoiled he could not tell the difference between right and wrong. He was sentenced to 10 years drug-and-alcohol-free probation for intoxication manslaughter, a punishment condemned by critics as privilege rewarded with leniency.

Couch and his mother, Tonya Couch, fled the country after a video surfaced online apparently showing Couch at a party where beer was being consumed. Authorities had been investigating that video as a potential parole violation.

Couch had missed a mandatory meeting with his probation officer, prompting officials in Tarrant County, Texas, to issue a warrant for his arrest earlier this month.

Couch and his 48-year-old mother were tracked down and captured near Puerto Vallarta’s seafront promenade. Mexican authorities said they had been working with the U.S. Marshals Service since December 24th to locate the pair.

The mother and son apparently entered Mexico by land, said Ricardo Vera, a local official for Mexico’s National Migration Institute. He said the two did not register when entering Mexico and it was not clear where they came in. Vera said owing to a shortage of seats on Tuesday flights to Houston, the two were now more likely to return to Texas on Wednesday from Jalisco’s state capital, Guadalajara.

“They had planned to disappear,” Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson told a news conference in Fort Worth, Texas. “They even had something that was almost akin to a going-away party before they left town.”

When they arrived back in the United States, Couch would appear in juvenile court and his mother would be arrested for hindering an apprehension, Anderson said.

Ethan Couch’s attorney, Reagan Wynn, declined to comment, saying in a statement he had not had the chance yet to speak with his client.

In Puerto Vallarta, eyewitness Cristina Barraza said she saw Tonya Couch’s arrest. She was led with hands behind her head by a man in plainclothes to a white pickup truck in front of a modest four-story building where the pair were reportedly staying.

Afterwards, the vehicle sped off, said Barraza, saying she did not see Ethan Couch during the arrest.

She also recalled an exchange with the mother last week as she sat outside her home on the sidewalk across the street. “She came along here and greeted me in Spanish. She was nice.”

Jalisco’s Attorney General Eduardo Almaguer told reporters the pair had first stayed in a bungalow close to the beach, then moved to a “more discreet” apartment further into town. They were detained while arriving back at the apartment on Monday evening and put up no resistance, he said.

A police booking picture from Mexico showed the previously blond Ethan Couch with dark hair, which the sheriff said suggested Couch was trying to change his appearance.

Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said that she expected the judge to hold Couch after his juvenile hearing, and that she hoped it would be in an adult jail.

Reuters