Families gather for “affluenza” crash victims

06/15/2014 9:16 PM

06/15/2014 9:17 PM

Last year on Father’s Day, Eric Boyles was just coming to grips with a horrific crash that killed his wife, one of his daughters and two other people in front of his home on Burleson Retta Road.

This year, Boyles and daughter Maggie hosted more than 100 victims’ family members, first responders, detectives, paramedics and prosecutors on the one-year anniversary of the June 15, 2013, crash.

The tragedy, which also injured 12 people, eventually would make national headlines after a psychologist testified that the actions of teenage driver Ethan Couch were the result of “affluenza,” a condition caused by growing up in a wealthy family. He was convicted of four counts of intoxication manslaughter for killing the four people and sentenced to probation.

“During his trial, a group of us thought about doing something like this when the anniversary arrived,” Boyles said Sunday afternoon as visitors milled around his home. “This is ground zero for us, and we wanted to support each other.”

The chain of events in front of his house in the 1500 block of Burleson Retta Road began just before the deadly crash, at about 11:45 p.m. Brian Jennings, 41, a youth minister at Alsbury Baptist Church in Burleson, had stopped to help a motorist with a disabled SUV.

Couch, then 16, had been drinking and driving a Ford F350 when he clipped the SUV and then struck several people. Then the pickup hit Jennings’ vehicle, which had two boys inside.

Those who died were Jennings; Breanna Mitchell, 24, the driver of the disabled SUV; and Boyles’ wife, Hollie, 52, and daughter Shelby, 21.

One of Couch’s passengers, Sergio Molina, was left paralyzed and is in a wheelchair.

He and his family were among those who attended the remembrance Sunday. The memorial was a reunion for families who had gotten to know each other. Kids and adults tossed a football in the back yard. Some people sat outside visiting and others stood inside watching the NBA Finals.

“We all bonded together in the past year,” said Boyles, who also noted the event also was to remind others that the families believe the justice system failed the victims.

Couch was sentenced to 10 years’ probation in December on four counts of intoxication manslaughter. The case gained notoriety after his defense included testimony by a psychologist that he suffered from “affluenza.” Part of his defense was that his parents mostly left him to grow up on his own without supervision, and that his mother spent money to make him happy.

Families whose relatives were either killed or injured filed lawsuits, and all but one have been settled.

Molina’s family agreed on a settlement of more than $2 million. They have said he can only blink his eyes since the wreck.

Five other families have settled with the Couches, pending court approval.

The family of Lucas McConnell, who was injured as he sat in the parked truck driven by the youth minister, is the only one who didn’t settle. The family has said a jury trial is their means of seeking justice

Lucas McConnell, 13, and his parents have requested a civil trial to force accountability on Couch, the parents have said.

While on probation, Couch, who turned 17 in April, may not drink alcohol, use drugs or drive. He was also ordered to get treatment in a lockdown addiction facility. In April, it was learned that he is being treated at the North Texas State Hospital in Vernon, a state-owned inpatient mental health facility.

Boyles said he didn’t know whether there will be another memorial next year.

“A core group of us will probably stay in touch,” Boyles said. “But it’s been quite a long year.”

This report contains information from Star-Telegram archives.

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