Ethan Couch, tracked to Mexico after violating his probation in the deaths of four people in 2013 while he was driving drunk, may not be returning to Fort Worth from Mexico soon, authorities said Wednesday.
But his mother, Tonya Couch, 48, who drove with her 18-year-old son to Puerto Vallarta, where they were detained Monday, was put on a plane for Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon, a Mexican official told The Associated Press.
Tonya Couch arrived at Los Angeles International Airport in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and was taken in handcuffs through the terminal to an unmarked Dodge Charger early Thursday morning, AP reported. She was wearing blue street clothes and looked away from cameras as she walked, flanked by two marshals.
A National Immigration Institute official said Tonya Couch was sent home because immigration authorities did not receive a judge’s injunction like the one that temporarily blocked the deportation of her son.
It was unclear why she was brought to Los Angeles instead of DFW, where she and her son live and where he was on probation for the 2013 drunken-driving crash. U.S. Marshals Service spokesman Eugene Hwang said he could not reveal any details about her trip through California or say how long she might remain here, citing security concerns in transporting someone in custody.
Officer Norma Eisenman said she was picked up by the LAPD's fugitive task force shortly after 1:30 a.m. Thursday at Los Angeles International Airport. She will be held until U.S. marshals arrive to take her to Texas, Eisenman said.
Ethan Couch was taken to Mexico City late Wednesday, the official said. The decision to move Couch was made because the Mexico City facility for detaining migrants is larger and better equipped to hold someone for days or weeks. The official would not say if he was being moved by air or ground.
Federal and local authorities referred questions on Tonya Couch’s deportation to U.S. marshals, who led the cross-border hunt for Ethan Couch. Marshals’ spokeswoman Laura Vega said agency policy was not to comment on prisoner movements.
A spokeswoman with the Tarrant County district attorney’s office said she could not confirm AP’s report.
Earlier Wednesday at a news conference in Houston, Richard Hunter, chief deputy for the U.S. Marshals Service in South Texas, said that the three-day court injunction granted to Ethan Couch will likely take at least two weeks to resolve.
Hunter said both mother and son filed separate writs of amparo, which sends the case to immigration court. That would likely keep them in Mexico for at least two weeks because the writs “take the decision out of a lower-level agency and asks that a higher authority deport them,” Hunter said.
It was not immediately clear why Tonya Couch was not included in the judge’s injunction.
Also, it was not clear whether she was escorted by U.S. marshals or whether she was deported without an escort.
If Couch arrived unescorted, U.S. Customs officers would check her name in the computer system like any arriving passenger and detain her if they found the Tarrant County arrest warrant, said Rob Pedregon, a Los Angeles International Airport police spokesman.
If a marshal is with Couch, they would proceed to the next destination like any traveler, he said. Airport police would not routinely track the arrival.
Five nonstop flights from Guadalajara were scheduled to land at LAX on Wednesday night.
Writ of amparo
Ethan and Tonya Couch fled Tarrant County at least two weeks ago.
Ethan Couch is serving 10 years on probation for killing four people and injuring several others in a 2013 drunken driving crash in southern Tarrant County.
An arrest warrant was issued for Tonya Couch accusing her of hindering the apprehension of her son, a third-degree felony punishable by two to 10 years in prison.
Hunter said that Mexican immigration agents detained the Couches in Puerto Vallarta after going to an address provided by U.S. officials. Jalisco state prosecutor Eduardo Almaguer Ramirez said U.S. authorities knew the mother and son were in the beach resort town because of a phone call to Domino’s Pizza, The Associated Press reported.
The two were asked during the “encounter” with Mexican immigration officials if they were Mexican citizens. The agents determined they could be deported. But the amparo sends the case to an immigration court to decide whether the agents’ decision was correct. Hunter said amparo cases typically take two weeks to two months.
Hunter said he didn’t know how the Couches were able to contact attorneys in Mexico, but that several lawyers’ names were included on the Mexican legal paperwork.
Ethan Couch’s lawyers in the U.S. released a statement Wednesday saying they don’t represent him in Mexico, and don’t represent Tonya Couch “in any capacity.”
Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said he was informed about 8 a.m. Wednesday that the Couches weren’t returning to Texas as planned.
“They’re trying to fight being brought back somehow,” Anderson said. “It’s just a continuing string of what we’ve seen all along. We’re patient people. We’ll be waiting.”
According to ABC News, Ethan Couch’s father issued a statement through his lawyer saying he’s cooperating with authorities.
“Fred Couch has been cooperating with officials from the Tarrant County District Attorneys Office and the U.S. Marshals Service in their search for Ethan,” the statement from Lance Evans reads, according to ABC News.
“He is very appreciative of efforts by these and other agencies to safely locate his son. Because of Ethan’s pending legal issues, Mr. Couch will have no additional comment at this time.”
Fred and Tonya Couch were divorced in 2007, public records show.
On Aug. 10, Tonya Couch sold her 3,964-square-foot house at 1719 Burleson Retta Road in Burleson, deed records show. The house, built in 1974, sits on six acres.
She and Fred Couch bought the property in 2000, but the deed was transferred into Tonya’s Couch’s name only in 2007, according to deed records.
The Tarrant Appraisal District values the house at $343,000.
State District Judge Jean Boyd, who is now retired, sentenced Couch to probation on four counts of intoxication manslaughter in December 2013. Couch was also ordered to enter a “lockdown” addiction treatment facility and not to drive or use alcohol or drugs for 10 years.
Prosecutors had asked that Couch be sentenced to 20 years in a state juvenile lockup.
During a hearing in February 2014, Boyd told the families that her decision had nothing to do with a psychologist’s comment about “affluenza” during his testimony for the defense.
The stiffest punishment Ethan Couch can receive for fleeing the country while on probation is several months in jail, Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said Tuesday.
Because Couch is on juvenile probation, any punishment would be limited to the terms of probation set in juvenile court. The terms don’t expire until he turns 19 in April.
A hearing to transfer his case to an adult court is scheduled for Jan. 19. The change to adult status would extend his time on probation
Staff reporters Ryan Osborne, Monica S. Nagy, Bud Kennedy, Sandra Baker and Deanna Boyd contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press.