Texas and U.S. officials released details of the capture of “Affluenza” teen Ethan Couch, 18, and his mother, Tonya, 48, who will be charged with allegedly “hindering” the apprehension of her fugitive son.
There was a lot that Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson, Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson, and U.S. Marshal Richard Taylor could not say as the investigation remains ongoing but they believe Couch and his mother drove into Mexico after disappearing earlier this month.
Anderson said they have not uncovered any evidence that Couch’s father was involved although they have not ruled it out. They thought Couch’s disappearance was “premeditated” and have reason to believe his mother threw him a “going away party” the night before the two fled to Mexico. They were captured Monday in the Mexican resort town of Puerto Vallarta, Breitbart Texas’ Bob Price reported.
Officials expect Tonya Couch to be arrested upon her return. If taken into custody, she faces a third-degree felony charge of hindering an apprehension, which carries a 2-10 year prison sentence. Presently, U.S. Marshals work to get Couch and his mother returned from Mexican custody and into the hands of Tarrant County authorities.
Anderson said he was not surprised by Couch’s mother’s involvement. “Her entire focus has been on protecting Ethan,” he commented, “making sure he was not held accountable.” Anderson pointed out that mother and son fled to a busy tourist spot during the holidays. He also suggested they might “do everything to change their appearance.” In the mugshot taken by Mexican authorities on Monday, Couch’s fair hair appears dyed dark brown as does his close shaven beard.
District Attorney Wilson said she would like to see Couch’s case moved from juvenile to adult court, a determination that could be made at a January 19 juvenile court hearing scheduled in Fort Worth. Wilson attested that keeping Couch in a juvenile facility until his 19th birthday in April “is not enough” punishment. If the case moves to adult court, prosecutors will request that the judge sentence him to 120 days in prison for fleeing followed by serving out the remaining eight years left on his 10 year probation sentence.
Wilson explained that if Couch’s case gets transferred into the adult court system, he could also face up to 40 years in prison if he violated probation again, although she noted the adult court would still be bound by the original sentence ordered by the juvenile court, limiting further actions.
The Tarrant County Sheriff told reporters they had a “vested interested” in the “high priority” capture. He said, “I would like for him to be held accountable.” He agreed that the current 10 year probation sentence was not sufficient punishment and now that Couch is legally an adult, wants to see the case transferred to adult court. Last week, Anderson commented that Couch and his mother may have fled the U.S. The house in which they lived was empty. At the time, the U.S. Marshals Service joined the manhunt, later offering a $5,000 reward for information on the 18-year-old’s whereabouts.
The search for the teen began after he stopped communicating with his probation officer and missed a check-in meeting. Couch was already under investigation after a social media video surfaced in which someone who looked like Couch appeared at a party involving alcohol, a violation of his probation if that was him and if that video was taken after he was on probation.
Breitbart Texas reported Couch is the Texas teen who killed four people in a June 2013 drunk-driving wreck near Fort Worth. He was 16-years-old at the time. His blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit for an adult and there were traces of Valium in his system. A judge granted him leniency in juvenile court because Couch’s defense attorneys claimed the teen was the victim of “affluenza,” the result of his parents’ affluence leading to his inability to determine right from wrong. Instead of jail time, Couch was tried as a juvenile and sentenced to the 10 year probation sentence that included time in a rehabilitation center as part of his “affluenza” defense.
Tuesday morning, Couch’s attorneys Scott Brown and William Reagan Wynn released a statement: “At this point, we have not had the opportunity to speak with our client and we do not anticipate being able to do so unless and until he arrives in the United States. Until we have more information concerning this situation, it would not be prudent for us to make any further public statement.”
The U.S. Marshal called the capture “nothing more than a textbook case” of collaboration to track down the fugitives.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.