Ethan Couch, the "affluenza teen" who got probation for killing four people and injuring nine while driving drunk in 2013, is going to spend nearly two more years in jail. That’s what a Tarrant County judge ordered Wednesday in Couch’s first appearance in an adult court, two days after his 19th birthday. The hearing marked a new chapter in Couch’s case.
Couch sat in the court room in a red Tarrant County jail jumpsuit, his shaggy hair still mostly the dark brown he dyed it when he fled to Mexico with his mother late last year.
Tarrant County prosecutors told the judge that Couch should spend 180 days in jail for each of the four people he killed – 720 days in total. Couch’s lawyer, Reagan Wynn, said that was too much, and that the 19-year-old should still be subject to the more lenient juvenile court rules.
But Judge Wayne Salvant sided with the prosecutors. Couch, he ruled, will spend nearly two years in jail. Still, the judge gave Couch’s lawyers two weeks to change his mind.
“Nothing I do is set in stone, so I may reconsider,” Salvant said.
Now that Couch is in the adult court system, a stricter set of rules come into play. Couch was mostly quiet as Judge Salvant told him the terms of his adult probation, which will go on for several more years.
Salvant told Couch to stay away from alcohol, to submit to drug and alcohol screenings, and to try to find a job. He told him not to leave the area without permission.
It’s unclear how much of the time Couch has already spent in jail will count toward the judge’s mandated 720-day sentence. Couch turned 19 behind bars on Monday. He’s been locked up in Tarrant County’s maximum security jail since February. Sheriff Dee Anderson says he’s been kept separated from other inmates for his own protection. Anderson says he’s seen the young man’s demeanor change since he’s been incarcerated.
“Certainly the time that he’s spent in basically a single cell by himself with no privileges, that’s a rude awakening for anyone,” Anderson said. “And it has hit him that this is the life that’s what he feared if not expected.”
Couch’s case sparked international headlines back in 2014 when he was sentenced to drug treatment and ten years of probation instead of jail time. His lawyers argued that his upbringing, coddled by his wealthy parents, left him psychologically damaged. Couch's court-mandated treatment cost taxpayers about $200,000, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Global media interest was re-ignited late last year when Couch and his mother fled to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, after a video surfaced that appeared to show Couch at a rowdy drinking party.
Family members of Couch’s victims were glad to finally see him serving time.
“It gives me the comfort that he’s not going to be on the run again, trying to skip the country,” said Marla Mitchell, whose 24-year-old daughter Breanna was killed by Couch.
“Everyone is listening now to the victim’s cry,” Alex Lumas said. “To be frank, we want nothing to be forgotten.”
Lumas’ brother Sergio Molina was left severely disabled when Couch drunkenly wrecked his truck in 2013.
Couch’s father and step brother were in the courtroom, but declined to talk to reporters. His mother, Tonya, will also appear in front of Judge Wayne Salvant. She’s awaiting trial for helping her son flee the country.
Here is more on Couch from NPR