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Captured 'Affluenza Teen,' Mother Had 'Going-Away Party,' Sheriff Says

This photo released by Mexico's Jalisco state prosecutor's office shows the person authorities identify as Ethan Couch, after he was taken into custody in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
This photo released by Mexico's Jalisco state prosecutor's office shows the person authorities identify as Ethan Couch, after he was taken into custody in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

U.S. and Mexican authorities say they have detained fugitive Ethan Couch, who invoked an "affluenza" defense after he killed four people while driving drunk in 2013.

The 18-year-old Texan's mother, Tonya Couch, also was taken into custody Monday evening in the Mexican resort town of Puerto Vallarta. This ends a manhunt after Ethan Couch failed to appear at a mandatory appointment with his probation officer on Dec. 10, as The Two–Way has reported.

The Associated Press reports that authorities in Mexico say the two will be returned to the U.S. on Wednesday.

At a news conference Tuesday, Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said the two appeared to have had a "going-away party," suggesting the escape was planned. He added that:

"[Authorities] eventually got some intelligence information that they probably drove [a pickup truck] to the border and crossed over the border and were perhaps still in that truck. Continued to gather information both locally and away and learned through some interviews that what we suspected all along had happened, that they had planned to disappear, that they even had something that was almost akin to a going-away party before they left town."

Anderson said his department is working with the U.S. Marshals Service and Mexican authorities to get Couch and his mother back to U.S. soil. When they return, he said, "Ethan will be taken into custody and put into our juvenile facility here in Tarrant County for a hearing there in front of the juvenile judge."

He said an arrest warrant has been issued for Tonya Couch for hindering an apprehension. "She will be arrested and brought to our jail upon arrival back in the States," Anderson said.

Couch was 16 when he drunkenly sped down a dark road near Fort Worth and hit an SUV on the side of the road, killing four people and injuring several friends who were riding in Couch's pickup truck.

At trial later that year, Couch's attorneys infamously argued that his wealthy parents never held him accountable for his actions. As NPR reported at the time, the defense was met with mockery and provoked headlines like this one from Time magazine: "The Affluenza Defense: Judge Rules Rich Kid's Rich Kid-ness Makes Him Not Liable for Deadly Drunk Driving Accident."

He was convicted of DUI vehicular manslaughter and received 10 years' probation.

Tarrant County's District Attorney Sharen Wilson said at Tuesday's news conference that she is requesting the juvenile court "transfer his probation to the adult court and deal with him in the adult system," adding that she doesn't view his current sentence as a "sufficient punishment for the taking of four lives."

Days before Couch failed to meet with his probation officer, video surfaced online that purports to show him at a party where people are drinking alcohol. Consuming alcohol would break the terms of his probation.

The U.S. Marshals Service had offered a reward of $5,000 "for information that leads to Couch's whereabouts and arrest."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
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