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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Update: Mother of Texas ‘affluenza’ teen released from jail

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) – The mother of a fugitive teenager known for using an “affluenza” defense in a fatal drunken-driving wreck has been released from a Texas jail.

Tonya Couch was released on bond from the Tarrant County jail in Fort Worth shortly before 9 a.m. Tuesday. She’s charged with hindering the apprehension of a felon for allegedly helping her 18-year-old son flee to Mexico.

Her son, Ethan Couch, remains in a Mexico City detention facility, where he is contesting his extradition.

A judge on Monday lowered the mother’s bond from $1 million to $75,000. She must wear an electronic ankle monitor and remain at the home of her 29-year-old son, Steven McWilliams, except for appointments with her doctor and lawyer.

Couch will be required to wear the electronic ankle monitor and remain at the home of her 29-year-old son Steven McWilliams, except for appointments with her doctor and lawyer.

“I want her at her son’s home, and that’s where I want her to stay,” said State District Judge Wayne Salvant, who also ordered Couch to pay nearly $3,200 in restitution to the sheriff’s office for the cost of transporting her back to Texas from Los Angeles.

Authorities say Tonya Couch, 48, took $30,000 and fled with Ethan to Mexico out of fear that her son would be put behind bars for violating his probation. The two were caught Dec. 28 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Tonya Couch was brought back to Texas last week after first being taken to Los Angeles.

Couch was 16 and driving at three times the legal intoxication limit for adult drivers when he rammed a pickup truck into a crowd of people trying to help stranded motorists on the side of a North Texas road. Four people were killed in the June 2013 wreck.

A juvenile court judge gave the teen 10 years’ probation, outraging prosecutors who had called for him to face detention time. The case drew widespread derision after an expert called by Ethan Couch’s lawyers argued he had been coddled into a sense of irresponsibility by his wealthy parents, a condition the expert called “affluenza.”

Tonya Couch is separated from Fred Couch, Ethan’s father, who owns a suburban Fort Worth business that does large-scale metal roofing. According to an arrest warrant, Tonya Couch is accused of telling Fred Couch that he would never see her or Ethan again before fleeing.

Tarrant County criminal investigator Darran Gabbert testified at a hearing Monday that Tonya and Ethan Couch had a “planning meeting” with several other people before leaving for Mexico. One person at that meeting was a teen who was in Ethan Couch’s truck at the time of the crash, Gabbert said.

Gabbert said that teen’s attorney had contacted him to say the teen had Ethan Couch’s driver’s license and a credit card. The teen didn’t have his own ID, however, Gabbert said.

Tonya and Ethan Couch were found a few weeks after disappearing. Authorities say they were able to track them after the two ordered a pizza.

A Texas magistrate on Friday signed an order to examine Tonya Couch for “mental illness and mental retardation.” The order said the court determined there was reasonable cause to believe she “has a mental illness or is a person with a mental retardation.”

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