FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The Texas teenager who used an “affluenza” defense for a fatal drunken-driving wreck will remain in jail, for the time being.
Ethan Couch, who turned 19 on Monday, appeared in adult court for the first time Wednesday before state District Judge Wayne Salvant.
Salvant said he would not make an immediate decision on how much longer Couch must remain in jail and that he would not be released Wednesday. Salvant said he will wait for recommendations from prosecutors and Couch’s attorneys before deciding whether to give him more jail time.
The judge set several conditions for Couch’s probation when he does leave jail. Couch will not be allowed to drink, use drugs or drive, and he will be required to meet regularly with a community supervision officer.
Couch was 16 years old when he killed four people and seriously injured two others in June 2013 when he rammed a pickup truck into a crowd of people helping a motorist with a disabled vehicle. His blood-alcohol level was three times above the legal limit for adult drivers.
A juvenile court judge originally sentenced Couch only to probation, angering the families of his victims and prosecutors who had pushed for detention time.
Further sparking outrage was the contention of a defense psychologist, Dr. Dick Miller, that Couch had been coddled into a dangerous sense of irresponsibility by his wealthy parents. Miller used the term “affluenza,” which has stuck with the case ever since.
Couch ended up in trouble again last year after a cellphone video showed him at what appeared to be a party with alcohol. Drinking alcohol is a violation of Couch’s probation. Shortly after the video surfaced, Couch and his mother, Tonya, fled for Mexico.
The two were apprehended in a Mexican resort city in December and sent back to the United States. Couch has been in custody ever since.
The 2013 crash was not Couch’s first run-in with the law. At 15, he was given two citations after a police officer found him behind the wheel of a pickup truck next to a half-naked girl, with an open vodka bottle on the backseat floor.
“I spoke with him at some length about the various consequences of his driving and drinking,” a police officer wrote in a report, “such as effects on (his) driver’s license and his path in life, especially DWI and even killing someone in a DWI.”
Ethan’s father, Fred, runs a roofing and construction company and has faced lawsuits over a $100,000 debt and allegations of sexual harassment. Tonya Couch faces a felony charge of hindering the apprehension of a felon for helping Ethan flee to Mexico.
Miller, the psychologist who suggested Couch had “affluenza,” blamed Couch’s parents at his sentencing for having “taught him a system that’s 180 degrees from rational. If you hurt someone, say you’re sorry. In that family, if you hurt someone, send some money.”
Associated Press writers Reese Dunklin and Emily Schmall contributed to this report.