FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The teenager who killed four in a drunken-driving wreck was booked into a Texas juvenile detention center following his deportation from Mexico on Thursday, more than a month after he and his mother fled the U.S. as prosecutors investigated whether he had violated his probation.
Ethan Couch, 18, arrived at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport late Thursday morning and could be seen walking through the airport escorted by law enforcement. Couch and his mother were apprehended in the Mexican resort city of Puerto Vallarta on Dec. 28, after a call for pizza delivery tipped off authorities to their whereabouts.
Couch initially fought deportation, but he dropped the fight this week. His mother was deported last month.
“We’ve reached a great milestone,” Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said outside the juvenile facility in Fort Worth. “This is a day we’ve looked forward to, when we have them both here and back under the jurisdiction here. We’re hoping that the day comes for justice for the families and the four victims that were killed.”
Couch is scheduled for a court hearing Friday where a judge could decide to move him to an adult jail, which Anderson said he would support given the severity of Couch’s offenses. Couch also faces a hearing on Feb. 19 to determine whether his case will be transferred to the adult system, where he could face more time behind bars.
“He’s certainly capable of understanding now what’s going on, and I’d feel better if he was there (in an adult jail),” Anderson said.
Authorities believe Couch and his mother fled Texas in her pickup truck in early December, after an online video appeared to show Couch at a party where people were drinking. Couch was sentenced in juvenile court to 10 years of probation for the 2013 wreck that killed four people and injured several others. The terms prohibit him from drinking or leaving Tarrant County, Texas.
Couch’s attorneys Scott Brown and Reagan Wynn said in a statement Thursday they are “optimistic” their client will complete his probation term without any further issues. They also predicted the judge would keep Couch in juvenile custody at least until the hearing next month.
During the trial in the juvenile case, a defense witness argued the then-16-year-old Couch had been coddled into a sense of irresponsibility by his wealthy parents. The expert deemed the condition “affluenza,” which isn’t recognized as a medical diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association and drew widespread derision.
Couch’s mother, Tonya Couch, is charged in Texas with hindering the apprehension of a felon. She was released on bond this month after being fitted with an electronic ankle GPS monitor. According to an arrest warrant, she told her estranged husband, Fred Couch, that he would never see her or their son again before fleeing.
Mexican immigration agents put Ethan Couch on a Texas-bound commercial flight in Mexico City early Thursday. Video released by Mexican immigration officials showed Couch wearing a bluish camouflage-print hoodie as he was escorted out of the detention center and onto the plane by four agents.
If the case is moved out of the juvenile system, the judge could order Ethan Couch to spend up to 120 days in jail and then finish the remainder of his 10-year probation as part of an adult sentence, according to Tarrant County District Attorney spokeswoman Samantha Jordan. If he violates probation during that time, he could get up to 10 years in prison for each of the four people killed in the drunken-driving wreck.
If the case remains in the juvenile system, Ethan Couch could be held in a juvenile detention center for violating his probation until he turns 19 in April, at which point he would become eligible for parole, Jordan said.
Associated Press writer Mark Stevenson reported from Mexico City.
Key events in case of ‘affluenza’ teen Ethan Couch
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The teenager known for using an “affluenza” defense in a fatal drunken-driving wreck was returned to Texas on Thursday following his deportation from Mexico. Authorities believe 18-year-old Ethan Couch fled with his mother as Texas prosecutors investigated whether he violated his probation in the 2013 wreck that killed four people.
Here is a timeline of events in the case:
— June 15, 2013: Four people are killed when a pickup truck driven by 16-year-old Ethan Couch swerves off a road south of Fort Worth, Texas. Couch’s blood-alcohol level is three times the legal limit for driving. The victims are a woman whose vehicle was disabled on the side of the road and three people helping her. Two of the seven passengers in Couch’s truck are severely injured.
— Dec. 4, 2013 — Couch “admitted his guilt” in juvenile court in four cases of intoxication manslaughter and two cases of intoxication assault, according to the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office.
— Dec. 10, 2013: A defense witness testifies during Couch’s sentencing that the teen’s wealthy parents coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility, a condition the psychologist termed “affluenza.” Couch is later ordered to rehab and sentenced to 10 years’ probation, which prosecutors and law enforcement blasted as too weak.
— Feb. 5, 2014 — A juvenile court judge sets probation conditions that include barring Couch from driving and from drinking alcohol or using drugs.
— August 2015 — Couch’s father files for divorce, a year after he and his wife stopped living together as a couple. Fred and Tonya Couch originally married in 1996. They divorced 10 years later, but then remarried in April 2011.
— On or about Dec. 2, 2015 — A video surfaces that shows Ethan Couch at a party where alcohol was being served. Drinking alcohol would be a violation of his probation.
— Dec. 3, 2015 — Couch is contacted by his probation officer and told to report for a drug test. His mother withdraws $30,000 from her personal account. On or around the same date, mother and son hold a gathering in which they talk about going to Mexico, and Fred Couch tells authorities that Tonya Couch had called to tell him he would never see their son again.
— Dec. 10, 2015 — Ethan Couch, who is now 18, misses a mandatory appointment with his probation officer.
— Dec. 11, 2015 — A directive to apprehend Couch for a probation violation is issued.
— Dec. 16, 2015 — Authorities publicly announce they’re investigating whether Couch fled with his mother in an attempt to avoid facing accusations that he may have violated his probation.
— Dec. 28, 2015 — Ethan Couch and Tonya Couch are taken into custody in the Mexican resort city of Puerto Vallarta, a few days after a call for pizza delivery tipped off authorities to their whereabouts. Texas authorities issue an arrest warrant for Tonya Couch.
— Dec. 30, 2015 — Tonya Couch is deported, but a Mexican judge decides to delay Ethan Couch’s deportation. Tonya Couch arrives on a flight early the next morning in Los Angeles, where she is taken to jail.
— Jan. 7, 2016 — Law enforcement officers accompany Tonya Couch as she is flown back to Texas. She is booked at the Tarrant County Jail in Fort Worth.
— Jan. 8, 2016 — Tonya Couch is arraigned on a charge of hindering the apprehension of a felon. Her bond is set at $1 million.
— Jan. 11, 2016 — A judge lowers Tonya Couch’s bond to $75,000. She posts the bond the next day and is released to live with another son, after being fitted with an electronic ankle GPS monitor.
— Jan. 17, 2016 — Ethan Couch’s attorney in Mexico files a document seeking to lift the injunction that has kept him in Mexico.
— Jan. 25, 2016 — Ethan Couch formally ratifies his decision to drop an appeal against deportation.
— Jan. 28, 2016 — Ethan Couch is deported and flown on a commercial flight from Mexico City to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. He is booked at a juvenile detention facility.