‘Affluenza’ teen Ethan Couch and his mom may be traveling in Ford pickup, authorities say
Authorities are looking for a Ford pickup believed to be driven by wanted teen Ethan Couch and his mom, Tonya Couch. (US Marshals)
Wanted teen Ethan Couch and his mother may be traveling together in her pickup truck, Tarrant County authorities said Monday at a news conference on the nationwide manhunt.
Investigators are sifting through “hundreds and hundreds” of leads — including flight, credit card and cell phone records — as they search for Couch, 18, and his mom, Tonya Couch, 48.
The teen has been wanted since Dec. 11, after he missed his probation meeting, authorities said. Couch’s notorious “affluenza” defense in 2013 spared him jail time for killing four innocent bystanders in a drunk-driving crash. Another victim, a teenager, was left severely brain damaged and paralyzed.
Former District Judge Jean Boyd sentenced Couch to probation — a “miscarriage of justice” that continues to enrage many in Tarrant County, said Sheriff Dee Anderson.
“He continues to believe the law doesn’t apply to him, which is how he was raised,” said Anderson, who was visibly angry at a news conference Monday. “If he has enough money, he can get out of it.”
Anderson said Couch showed no remorse or sympathy the night he killed the victims or afterward. Couch, then 16, who had been drinking at his parents’ second home in Burleson, got behind the wheel with seven people piled into his Ford pickup, authorities said.
That night, Couch had a blood alcohol content of 0.24 — three times the legal limit for an adult — and was driving 70 mph in a 40-mph zone, authorities said.
“I said then, we’re not through with Ethan Couch — he’s not the kind of person who rehabilitates, who learns his lesson,” Anderson said.
Authorities asked for the public’s help in finding Tonya Couch’s Ford pickup truck. It’s a black 2011 Ford F150 Harley Davidson edition with 23 inch chrome wheels and Texas license plate BC50945. There’s damage to the pickup — a “crease” on the passenger side panel.
Couch’s attorneys, Scott Brown and Reagan Wynn, released a short statement saying they learned that Couch’s probation officer hasn’t been able to reach him or his mother for “the last several days,” prompting the court to call for his detention. The attorneys declined further comment.
Authorities said they’re not sure the teen and his mom are together, or that she is helping him elude law enforcement. But investigators have a “strong suspicion” that’s the case, Anderson said. Authorities pledged to file criminal charges against anyone proven to have helped Couch elude capture.
Anderson said he believes Couch decided to go on the run after a video surfaced online that appeared to show him drinking and playing beer pong. His probation terms prohibited him from drinking alcohol, so he wanted to run from the potential jail time he faced, Anderson said.
Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said Couch wasn’t allowed to leave the county without asking permission from his probation officer, which he didn’t do. She declined to say whether his passport had been confiscated.
Wilson said the victims’ families are being re-traumatized by Couch’s disappearance, and Christmastime makes it even harder. Couch killed 24-year-old Breanna Mitchell, whose SUV had broken down, and three people who had stopped to help: youth pastor Brian Jennings 41, and Hollie Boyles, 52, and her daughter, Shelby Boyles, 21.
A surviving victim, Sergio Molina, 17, was left severely brain damaged and paralyzed. Another teenage survivor, Soliman Mohmand, suffered broken bones and internal injuries.
“There isn’t anything more difficult in the world than these people being without their family members and us being focused on the man who killed them,” Wilson said. “It’s just heartbreaking.”
Couch and his mother lived together by themselves, Anderson said. She was divorced from Couch’s father, Fred Couch, who cooperated with investigators right after Ethan and his mom’s disappearance, telling them he hadn’t heard from either of them in about two weeks.
Tonya Couch’s mother reported the 48-year-old missing on Sunday. That allowed authorities to enter her name in a national database with a note saying that she is possibly with a fugitive. That way, if police look her up, they will see that information, Anderson said.
Couch received 10 years’ probation last year in his intoxication manslaughter case after a psychologist testified he suffered from “affluenza” because his family’s wealth and a dysfunctional relationship with his parents left him without a sense of responsibility.
Wilson has filed to move Couch’s case to adult court. If it remains in juvenile court, she said, the maximum he could serve would be four months in detention, until he turns 19 in April. But if the case is moved to adult court, he could face 10 years in prison.
“Hopefully, we will be able to hold him accountable … and make him pay a price since he hasn’t had to do that so far,” Anderson said.