Ethan Couch, who was sentenced in juvenile court to 10 years on probation for killing four people in a drunken driving crash in 2013, went to adult court for the first time Monday and was ordered to serve four consecutive 180-day jail sentences.
“You’re not getting out of jail today,” state District Judge Wayne Salvant told Couch, who turned 19 on Monday.
Prosecutors asked Salvant to give Couch jail time for violating his probation. Couch’s attorneys argued that he has not been convicted of a felony in adult court, and the most he might be sentenced to is 180 days in jail.
Salvant sided with prosecutors in the sentencing and he assessed other probation conditions including abstaining from alcohol, not driving and not leaving the county without permission. Those conditions are consistent with Couch’s juvenile probation, Salvant said.
Salvant says he’ll reconvene with attorneys in two weeks to possibly reconsider the decision.
Jason Derscheid, the North Texas director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said MADD was pleased with Salvant’s decision.
“We consider this a small victory,” Derscheid said.
Couch’s attorneys declined to comment after the hearing. Couch’s father, Fred Couch, also declined to comment. Fred Couch and Steven McWilliams, Couch’s half-brother, attended the hearing with a handful of other family members.
Couch has been in Tarrant County Jail’s maximum-security facility since Feb. 5, when he was returned to the U.S. after fleeing to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Anderson said the jail has no plans to remove Couch from isolation.
“We’re much more concerned someone would hurt him,” as opposed to Couch harming anyone, Sheriff Dee Anderson said Wednesday. He said the jail has had “zero issues” with Couch.
“I do believe Ethan Couch is not the same person he was when he came to jail,” Anderson said. “This time he’s spent, it’s a rude awakening for anyone.”
Crash happened in June 2013
Couch had been partying with friends the night of June 15, 2013, when he decided to take a friend to the store, although other friends urged him not to drive.
With seven passengers in his Ford F-350 pickup, Couch was speeding down Burleson-Retta Road in when he crashed into a group of people trying to help a stranded motorist.
Killed were Breanna Mitchell, 24, of Lillian, whose car had broken down; Hollie Boyles, 52, and Shelby Boyles, 21, who lived nearby and had come outside to help Mitchell; and Burleson youth minister Brian Jennings, 41, a passer-by who had also stopped to help.
Couch became known as the “affluenza” teen because a witness at his trial testified that he didn’t know right from wrong as a result of his wealthy upbringing.
Video surfaced in December
The latest chapter in Couch’s case began on Dec. 2, when a video surfaced showing someone who looked like Couch at a beer pong party, which could have violated his probation. On Dec. 3, Couch’s probation officer asked him to come in for a drug test but he did not respond and did not appear for a scheduled meeting with the probation officer on Dec. 10, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.
Authorities found Couch and his mother, Tonya Couch, in Puerto Vallarta on Dec. 28.
Judge Tim Menikos, who took over Couch’s juvenile case when Judge Jean Boyd retired, transferred Couch to adult jail. He had been in juvenile detention since Jan. 28, when he was returned to Fort Worth after evading authorities for more than a month in Mexico.
Before he violated his juvenile probation and fled to Mexico, Couch received about $200,000 in “residential care and support” for more than a year, with the state picking up most of the tab, according to costs outlined in court documents made available this week.
He spent stints at facilities in Vernon and Amarillo from February 2014 through February 2015.
Tonya Couch faces a third-degree felony charge of hindering the apprehension of a felon. She was fitted with an ankle monitor and released on bond on Jan. 12. She has not been indicted.
This article includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.