By Marice Richter
An affluent Texan teenager and his mother have filed papers to delay their extradition from Mexico, after fleeing there in likely violation of a probation deal that kept the youth out of prison for a fatal drunken-driving crash.
Ethan Couch, 18, became known in the United States as the ‘affluenza’ teen during his trial over the 2013 crash that killed four people. He and his mother, 48-year-old Tonya Couch, were captured in the Mexican Pacific Coast city of Puerto Vallarta on Monday and had been due to be flown back to Houston on Wednesday, accompanied by US Marshals.
Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said he was told by US Marshals that an attorney representing the Couches filed a “legal writ,” to prevent the pair from leaving Mexico, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
A Tarrant County legal source said the Couches were looking to fight their extradition. The sheriff and the attorney were not immediately available for comment.
During Ethan Couch’s trial in juvenile court, a psychologist testifying on his behalf said the teenager was afflicted with “affluenza,” a condition where he was so spoiled that he could not tell the difference between right and wrong.
The diagnosis is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and the term was widely ridiculed at the time. Couch was convicted on four counts of intoxication manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years of drink and drug-free probation, which critics saw as leniency won due to his family’s wealth. His escape to Mexico rekindled anger over the sentence.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram quoted Sheriff Anderson as saying, “They’re trying to fight being brought back somehow.”
“It’s just a continuing string of what we’ve seen all along. We’re patient people. We’ll be waiting.”
NBC News said the return could be delayed by two weeks.
The pair fled the country this month after a video surfaced online apparently showing Ethan Couch at a party where beer was being consumed. Authorities then launched a probe into a possible parole violation, law enforcement officials said.
The two were tracked down and caught in Puerto Vallarta. Mexican authorities said they had been working with the US Marshals Service since Dec. 24 to locate the pair.
When they arrived back in the United States, Couch would appear in juvenile court and his mother would be arrested for hindering an apprehension, Anderson said.
Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said she expected the judge to hold Couch after his juvenile hearing. County prosecutors have been working for months to move his case into the adult system.
In the car crash, Couch, then 16, was speeding and had a blood-alcohol level of nearly three times the legal limit when he lost control of his pickup truck and fatally struck a stranded motorist on the side of the road and three people who had stopped to help.
Anderson said on Tuesday that the Couches appeared to have planned for their departure, including holding a farewell party.
The Dallas Morning News reported that Couch’s mother sold her home in Tarrant County and was renting a house before she and her son fled the country.