By Marice Richter and Dave Graham
The mother of a Texas teenager, scorned for his ‘affluenza’ defense in a trial over a deadly car crash, arrived in the United States on Thursday after deportation from Mexico, while her son won a delay in his extradition, media and Mexican officials said.
Ethan Couch, 18, and his mother, Tonya Couch, 48, were captured in the Mexican Pacific Coast city of Puerto Vallarta on Monday. They fled there after officials in Tarrant County, Texas, launched an investigation into whether Ethan violated the terms of a probation deal that kept him out of prison after he killed four people with his pickup truck in 2013 while driving drunk.
Tonya Couch, who is wanted on a charge of hindering apprehension, was flown out of Mexico and landed in Los Angeles early Thursday en route to Texas, the Los Angeles Times and Associated Press reported.
She was expected to be handed over to the U.S. Marshals Service. She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
It was unclear when her son would be sent back to the United States.
Ricardo Vera, a migration official in Mexico’s Jalisco state, said the pair had filed an injunction to delay their extradition and a judge in Mexico would have up to 72 hours to consider the injunction.
Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said he was not surprised by the pair seeking the delay.
“They have done everything that they can so far to avoid being accountable, or avoid being brought to justice. Any roadblock they can put in the way, any hurdle, I fully expect that,” Anderson said in an interview.
Anderson said when Ethan Couch does arrive back in the United States, he would appear at a detention hearing in the juvenile system. The judge could keep him in a juvenile detention facility or send him to an adult jail, he said.
During Ethan Couch’s trial in juvenile court over the crash in 2013, a psychologist testified on his behalf that he was afflicted with “affluenza,” and was so spoiled by his wealth that he could not tell the difference between right and wrong.
The diagnosis is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and was widely ridiculed.
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 because of his family’s wealth. His flight to Mexico rekindled anger over that sentence.
Couch and his mother fled the United States earlier this month after a video surfaced online apparently showing Ethan Couch at a party where beer was being consumed. Authorities launched an investigation into a possible parole violation, law enforcement officials said.
The two were tracked down and arrested in Puerto Vallarta. Mexican authorities said they had been working with the U.S. Marshals Service since Dec. 24 to locate them.
In the car crash, Couch, then 16, was speeding and had a blood-alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit when he lost control of his pickup truck and struck a stranded motorist on the roadside and three people who had stopped to help.
During their last days in Puerto Vallarta, Couch and his mother lived in a modest apartment, kept a low profile and at least once used a false name as they tried to stay under the radar, local people and neighbors said.