Authorities fear a rich Texas teenager who used an “affluenza” defense to avoid jail time after killing four people in a drunk driving car crash has fled the country with his mother.
Ethan Couch, 18, was placed on the most wanted list earlier this week when he failed to check in with his probation officer after another teenager filmed him playing beer pong, a clear parole violation.
A nationwide manhunt for Couch has begun, including the FBI and U.S. Marshals, but Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson told CNN the teenager and his mother may have already left the country.
“They had a good head start. My gut feeling says they’ve gone a long way, they have the money, they have the ability to disappear and I’m fearing that they may even be out of the country.”
Couch made national headlines two years ago in 2013 when he received 10 years probation for killing four people during a drunk driving accident. He had driven into a group of people, who had stopped to help a stranded motorist at almost 70 mph, killing four people and seriously wounding two others. His blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit and contained Valium; he was 16 at the time.
His light sentence outraged the victim’s family members who claimed Couch’s wealth, valued in the millions, protected him from punishment.
His lawyers had used an “affluenza” defense, claiming Couch’s parents were dysfunctional guardians who never taught their son to live responsibly, obey the law, or respect authority.
Dr. G. Dick Miller testified in court that Couch’s parents taught him he could do whatever he wanted to, including driving a car to school when he was 13 years old, reports ABC News. His upbringing, testified Dr. Miller, left him unable to tell the difference between right and wrong.
“Instead of the golden rule, which was do unto others as you would have them do unto you, [Couch] was taught we have the gold, we make the rules at the Couch household.”
He pleaded guilty to four counts of manslaughter and two counts of assault while intoxicated and was sentenced to 10 years drug-and-alcohol-free probation along with time in a rehabilitation center, but earlier this month he was filmed playing beer pong.
There’s no specific evidence linking Couch’s disappearance to the beer pong video nor is he seen drinking beer. Sheriff Anderson, however, told Yahoo News the teen and his mother may have used their wealth to get a jump on the possible probation violation.
“If we [had] a top 10 wanted list today, he’s number one.”
Authorities are warning an angry public the search for Couch may be a long one; his mother’s wealth combined with the lead-time they already have may have given the pair time to escape the country.
The search began Tuesday when Couch failed to make an appointment with his probation officer. Authorities arrived at his home, which he shares with his mother, only to discover it empty except for a pinball machine. The FBI and U.S. Marshals joined the search Thursday afternoon, but so far have no leads.
An order to find and detain Couch has been logged into the national database, and authorities have been interviewing people every day.
Sheriff Anderson gave CNN a message for Couch and his mother during an interview earlier this week.
“You can run, but you’re always going to be looking over your shoulder. We’re not going to give up. We’re going to come after you. We’re going to find you, wherever you are.”
[Photo Credit: U.S. Marshals Service via AP]