Whatever Happened To Affluenza Teen, Ethan Couch?

On June 15, 2013, a then 16-year-old Ethan Couch plowed into a small crowd of people on the side of the road in Burleson, Texas (via Fox News). According to D Magazine, Breanna Mitchell was driving home from work late at night when her tire blew out. The 24-year-old swerved into the side of the road and waited for help. That's when she was approached by Hollie Boyles, her daughter Shelby, and Brian Jennings, a youth pastor. Within minutes, however, the unthinkable happened. A red Ford truck driven by Couch bolted through the dark and smashed into Mitchell, her car, and the good samaritans that had offered her their help. Moreover, D Magazine explains that the Ford also slammed into Jennings' truck, which had two adolescents inside. The force then led Jennings' vehicle into oncoming traffic. Ultimately, the accident resulted in the deaths of Mitchell, Hollie, Shelby, and Jennings (per WFAA). Nine other people were injured, including two of Couch's friends and a child that was inside Jennings' truck.

ABC News reports that Couch was driving 70 miles per hour and was heavily intoxicated. WFAA adds that he was also under the influence of valium and marijuana. The teen was reportedly living on his own at a home owned by his parents and had thrown a party on that fateful night. Although Couch admitted that he was at fault, he faced very few consequences for his destructive actions.

He had troubled parents

D Magazine reports that Ethan Couch was born in April 1997 to Fred and Tonya Couch. By all accounts, his parents had an abusive and tumultuous marriage. Fred later referred to the union as a "mistake." Although they eventually divorced, this did little to quell hostility between Fred and Tonya (seen above on the left). A social worker later noted that there were looming issues, including "the codependent relationship Ethan has with his mother and the father's lack of a regular and consistent relationship with Ethan." According to the Chicago Tribune, the family, however, was well off. In 1986, Fred founded Cleburne Metal Works, which reportedly made millions a year.

Even so, both Fred and Tonya faced several legal issues before their son's crash (per Fox News). In 2003, Tonya received a charge for reckless driving and later lost her nursing license because she didn't notify the Texas Board of Nursing of the said charge. As for Fred, CBS News states that he was arrested for assaulting an employee in 1999 and was later accused of sexual misconduct by a coworker in 2009.

Regarding Couch's upbringing, D Magazine writes that social workers believe that Tonya and Fred "adultified" Couch and "overly involved" him in their issues. Moreover, another individual added that Tonya simply "couldn't say no" to her son.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

He received a lenient sentence

Hours after the fatal accident, CNN reports that Ethan Couch's blood alcohol levels were found to be three times the legal limit. Per ABC News, the teen was subsequently charged with four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault. D Magazine states that Couch pled guilty. However, his well-to-do parents were able to hire a defense team that was about to provide an argument on why Couch needed to be punished leniently for his crimes. His defense contended that he was experiencing something referred to as "affluenza." In other words, Couch's wealthy childhood led him to believe that there were no consequences for his actions.

According to The Guardian, the term "affluenza" goes back to the 1800s and is essentially a catchall term that denotes the numerous issues (psychological and otherwise) that affluent individuals experience because of their enormous wealth. In Couch's case, Dr. G. Dick Miller, his psychologist, stated (via Fox News) that Fred and Tonya "taught him a system that's 180 degrees from rational. If you hurt someone, say you're sorry. In that family, if you hurt someone, send some money." Furthermore, Miller blamed the fact that his parents were unable to say "no" to him (per ABC News).

In the end, the judge bought the defense, and D Magazine writes that Couch received no prison time for taking four lives and hurting several others. He was sentenced to 10 years of probation and sent to rehab in California.

The victims' families filed lawsuits against Ethan Couch

Following Ethan Couch's sentencing, D Magazine writes that many were enraged and disapproved of the so-called Affluenza defense. Per The Guardian, critics noted that he had gotten off scot-free only because his parents had the money and power to provide him with his freedom. As Marc Schindler from the Justice Policy Institute, put it, "It's worse to be innocent and poor in this country than to be wealthy and guilty." That being said, ABC News states that Couch was hit with various lawsuits from his victims and their families.

In 2015, it was reported that Luke McConnell, a 13-year-old who was inside Jennings' vehicle during the accident, had reached a settlement with Couch. Although McConnell was physically unharmed, he witnessed Jennings' death. In 2014, CNN reported that Couch had reached a $2 million settlement regarding Sergio Molina. Molina, then a teen, was riding in Couch's truck bed when he crashed. He suffered a brain injury, and as a result, the former soccer player is now paralyzed. Molina's family stated that his medical bills were in the millions and more than they could ever afford. In 2016, Molina's brother, Alex Lemus, revealed that the Couchs had failed to provide any funds (per People). Lemus stated that they "need to pay ... Not justice. I just want some help."

He and his mother fled to Mexico

According to ABC News, Ethan Couch attended his court-ordered rehab in California and returned to Texas to work at Cleburne Sheet Metal. However, in December 2015, he failed to check in with his probation officers. It was later found that Couch, then 18, and his mother, Tonya, had fled to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (via NBC News). Per The Guardian, this decision was made after a short video showed that Couch had violated his probation — he had attended a party where alcohol was being served and thus had fled the country with his mother to avoid being jailed for the blunder (via Fox News).

Weeks later, the BBC writes that Couch and Tonya were found at a Mexican resort and arrested. Tonya had allegedly withdrawn $30,000 and driven across the border (per CBS News). She had also told Couch's father, Fred, that they were going to disappear. Ultimately, the mother and son were discovered when authorities traced a phone call that had been made to Domino's Pizza. Upon their discovery, ABC News writes that Tonya's lawyer stated, "What would you do if you were a parent with a son who is the most hated boy in America? What would you do to protect him?" In April 2016, Couch was sentenced to 720 days in jail for violating his probation. Per CNN, he was released in April 2018 and was required to wear a patch that detects drug and alcohol ingestion.

He and his family have continued to face legal issues

In 2020, CNN wrote that Ethan Couch was arrested for violating his probation when his patch detected THC. However, he was released shortly after when further testing was unable to determine if the THC had resulted from CBD oil or actual marijuana consumption (via WFAA). Couch's lawyer promptly released a statement that read that "Ethan is committed to his sobriety." Per Distractify, his probation will come to an end in 2024. After their Mexican escapade, ABC News states that Tonya Couch was charged with hindering apprehension of a known felon and money laundering.

As of 2022, Tonya's case has yet to go to trial, and her legal team is attempting to get the money laundering charges dismissed (per another article from WFAA). She has reportedly made previous appeals, all of which have been thrown out. According to People, Fred Couch was found guilty of impersonating a police officer back in 2016. Authorities claim that Fred provided them with a fake ID and stated that he was a police officer. The incident occured when officers responded to a disturbance call. Although he did not receive jail time, he was sentenced to a year of probation. In 2022, RadarOnline reported that REELZ had made a documentary about Couch titled "Affluenza Teen: The Friends Speak."