The parents of a teen who was sentenced to 10 years probation for driving drunk and causing a wreck that killed four people were ordered by the court Friday to pay $1,170 a month for his rehab treatment — far less than the actual cost of his treatment.
Ethan Couch, who turned 17 Friday, is being treated at the North Texas State Hospital in Vernon, a state-owned in-patient mental health facility. His treatment began there Feb. 19.
The actual cost of his treatment is $715 per day, according to testimony on Friday.
State District Judge Jean Boyd had previously ordered that Couch's parents, Fred and Tonya Couch, pay for his therapy. The hearing Friday morning, similar to a child support hearing, was necessary to formally set the amount that the couple must pay.
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Debbie Spoonts, placement supervisor for Tarrant County Juvenile Services, testified that the state-run facility evaluated the couple and, based on a sliding scale, determined the amount that they should pay.
“The family respects the decision of the facility and of the court and will honor the payment system that the court has put in place,” Lance Evans, the attorney for Couch’s parents, said after the hearing.
Among those present at Friday’s hearing were Kevin and Alesia McConnell, whose 13-year-old son was among the injured in the crash, and Greg Coontz, the civil attorney for relatives of one of the four killed in the wreck, Brian Jennings.
When asked what he thought about the amount the Couch family was ordered to pay, Coontz told reporters that it was his understanding that it is the maximum amount on the facility’s sliding scale.
“As a taxpayer, I probably feel exactly like you do,” Coontz said. “It seems like maybe that ought to be a little different and should be addressed if there’s the ability to pay. Most time, I don’t know that there is. Clearly, sometimes that ability is there.”
Couch’s parents and his attorney, Reagan Wynn, were at the hearing but did not speak to the media.
The ‘affluenza’ case
On June 15, Couch was driving drunk, speeding down Burleson-Retta Road in southern Tarrant County in a F-350 pickup with seven teenage passengers when he veered off the road, clipped an SUV and smashed into its driver and three other people.
Killed were Breanna Mitchell, 24, of Lillian, whose SUV had broken down; Jennings, a youth minister at a Burleson church who had stopped to help; and Hollie Boyles, 52, and her daughter, Shelby Boyles, 21, who had come from their house nearby to help.
The case garnered national attention and sparked outrage by many who believed the sentence handed down by Boyd was too lenient. During testimony at Couch’s sentencing, psychologist Dick Miller testified that the teen was a victim of “affluenza,” which was described as a mental state of reckless behavior brought on by wealth and the behavior of his parents.
Boyd has reportedly told the families that her decision had nothing to do with the “affluenza” defense.
During testimony at his sentencing, Couch’s attorney said the family offered to pay for him to be treated at Newport Academy, a posh facility in Newport Beach, Calif., which would cost $450,000 a year.
Eric Boyles, whose wife and daughter were killed in the crash, previously told the Star-Telegram that 14 facilities were considered for Couch’s rehab, and that four had declined to take the troubled teen because of the media attention that could come with him. One of those four was the Newport Academy, Boyles said.
Jamison Monroe, founder of the Newport Academy, said he had been asked by the family not to comment about the case.
‘One more step’
Six civil lawsuits were filed against Couch, his parents and the family’s company, Cleburne Metal Works. All are close to being settled with the exception of one.
Kevin McConnell has said his family will not accept a settlement in their suit and wants a jury trial. He said the family believes there has been a total lack of accountability by anyone in the Couch family.
After Friday’s hearing, McConnell told reporters that he plans to be there for each “step” of the long journey ahead.
“It’s a journey were going to have take as a family and friends of the other victims,” McConnell said. “So it’s just one more step.”
McConnell declined to offer an opinion on whether the amount being paid by the Couches for their son’s treatment is fair.
“That’s not my call,” McConnell said. “We have a criminal justice system and a legal system. That’s not my call to make.”
This report includes information from the Star-Telegram archives.