Nabbed: 'Affluenza' teen who fled US after probation breach

Ethan Couch and his mother Tonya Couch. He was serving 10 years of probation for killing four people while driving drunk in a 2013 accident.
Ethan Couch and his mother Tonya Couch. He was serving 10 years of probation for killing four people while driving drunk in a 2013 accident.

Drink-driver who killed 4 missed probation meeting, vanished with his mum; both detained in Mexico

FORT WORTH (Texas) • A Texas teen from a wealthy family, who became a fugitive after breaking his probation sentence for killing four people while driving drunk, has been taken into custody in Mexico.

Ethan Couch, 18, nicknamed the "affluenza" teen, was serving 10 years of probation for intoxication manslaughter in the 2013 incident.

He and his mother, Ms Tonya Couch, 48, disappeared this month, prompting officials in Tarrant County, Texas, to place the teen on the county's most wanted list and issue a warrant for his arrest.

Couch, the son of millionaire parents, became known as the "affluenza" teen during his trial in juvenile court, when a psychologist said he was so wealthy and spoiled, he could not tell the difference between right and wrong.

The term "affluenza", coined from affluence and influenza, implied that financial privilege made him unable to understand the consequences of his actions.

A Tarrant County law enforcement official confirmed on Monday that Couch had been detained in the Pacific resort city of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, but declined to give further details.

CNN, citing officials briefed on the matter, said Couch was with his mother and would be turned over to the US Marshals Service.

The Attorney-General's Office in Mexico did not respond immediately to calls seeking information.

At age 16, Couch was speeding and had a blood-alcohol level of nearly three times the legal limit when he lost control of his truck, and fatally struck a stranded motorist on the side of the road and three Good Samaritans who had stopped to help. Several passengers riding in Couch's vehicle were hurt, including one friend who was permanently brain damaged.

Prosecutors had sought 20 years in prison for Couch, but the court handed him a surprise sentence of mental-health treatment and a decade of probation. The leniency shocked many Americans, especially because the teen expressed no remorse and did not spend a single night behind bars.

The hunt for Couch began a few weeks ago, after Couch missed a mandatory meeting with his probation officer.

Sheriff Dee Anderson said last week it was possible the teen and his mother had fled the country, and the home they shared had been cleared of its contents. Their passports had been reported missing by the teen's father, who has been cooperating with investigators.

Police were checking reports that Couch may have left the US, after a video came out showing him at a party, in a likely violation of his probation. US Marshals were offering a US$5,000 (S$7,000) reward in exchange for information on his whereabouts.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2015, with the headline 'Nabbed: 'Affluenza' teen who fled US after probation breach'. Print Edition | Subscribe