Officials: ‘Affluenza’ teen, mother detained in Mexico
Dallas — A Texas sheriff said Tuesday an arrest warrant will be issued for a Texas woman who was found with her son in Mexico, a teenager on probation after killing four people in a drunken-driving wreck and invoking an “affluenza” defense
Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said at a news conference that the warrant would be issued for Tonya Couch on charges of hindering and apprehension.
Mexico’s Jalisco state prosecutors’ office said 18-year-old Ethan Couch and his mother were located and detained Monday evening in the Pacific Coast resort city of Puerto Vallarta.
Anderson said it appears the two planned their disappearance and even held something of a going-away party. He said the U.S. Marshals Service was working to get the two returned to the United States.
Ricardo Ariel Vera, the representative of Mexico’s immigration institute in the western state of Jalisco, said the mother and son were being held at immigration offices in the state capital, Guadalajara, and would be returned to the United States aboard a commercial flight to Houston sometime Tuesday.
“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.”
During the sentencing phase of Couch’s trial, a defense expert argued that Couch’s 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 widespread ridicule.
Couch’s attorneys, Scott Brown and Reagan Wynn, said in a statement they won’t comment on the case until they speak with their client, which likely won’t happen before Couch reaches the U.S.
Mexico’s Jalisco state prosecutors’ office said in a statement that its agents had been working with American authorities via the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara since Dec. 26 to track down and capture the two.
Couch and his mother 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 city’s 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. A playground and a day-care center with a fence topped with razor-wire stand nearby.
Couch was apparently trying to lie low, and even disguise himself; a photo distributed by the Jalisco state prosecutor’s office show him in detention with his blond hair dyed black and his normally blondish beard a light-brown. He appeared pale and untanned.
After their detention, they were handed over to Mexican immigration authorities for deportation, the statement said.
Authorities had begun searching for the pair after Ethan Couch failed to keep a mandatory appointment with his probation officer on Dec. 10, leading authorities to issue the juvenile equivalent of an arrest warrant for him.
Anderson 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 be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
The U.S. Marshals Service had issued a wanted poster promising a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to Ethan Couch’s whereabouts and capture.
In June 2013 at age 16, Ethan Couch was driving drunk and speeding on a dark two-lane road south of Fort Worth when he crashed into a disabled SUV off to the side, killing four people and injuring several others, including passengers in Couch’s pickup.
Couch pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury. Because of his age, he wasn’t certified as an adult for trial and a judge sentenced him in juvenile court to 10 years’ probation and a stint in a rehabilitation center.
Anderson was among those critical of the judge’s decision not to incarcerate Couch. The sheriff said that the teen has never expressed remorse for his actions and that his case sparked more outrage than any other Anderson has encountered in his law enforcement career.