The Truth About Affluenza Teen Ethan Couch's Parents

In 2013, as USA Today reports, a crime that took place in the Fort Worth suburbs shook the nation. A 16-year-old youth named Ethan Couch (pictured above) was driving under the influence when he caused a crash that resulted in the deaths of four pedestrians and the injuries of nine other people (per the Cleburne Times-Review). The teen was facing serious criminal charges, including four counts of intoxication manslaughter, when his defense team came up with a defense that was at once novel and shocking: They claimed that Couch was so coddled by his wealthy parents that he was effectively raised without boundaries or a sense of personal responsibility. The team called it "affluenza," a portmanteau of the words "affluence" and "influenza." And the judge bought it: Couch was sentenced to probation instead of jail time.

That his parents were prepared to coddle him and shield him from responsibility for his crimes became apparent a few months later when his mother helped him escape to Mexico after authorities wanted to talk to him about a possible parole violation (via Talking Points Memo). In fact, Ethan's parents' shaky relationship with the law doesn't begin and end with his mother's aiding and abetting. Both his mother and father have lengthy criminal histories, including crimes committed before and after Ethan's.

The Couch Family

Ethan Couch's father, Fred Couch, made his fortune in business. Specifically, in 1986, he founded Cleburne Metal Works, which installs metal roofing (via the Chicago Tribune). As of 2015, it employed 40 people and made an estimated $9.59 million in annual sales.

Years before the fatal wreck that made him a household name, it was already apparent that Ethan's parents were interested in neither teaching their son to obey the law nor allowing him to face consequences when he broke it. For example, as WDAF reports, when he was 13, Ethan was driving himself to his tony private school, which was not and is not legal in Texas. When questioned about this by the school principal, Fred purportedly threatened to buy the school. 

Ethan Couch's first real brush with the law would come a couple of years later when he was found passed out in a pickup truck with a naked, 14-year-old girl inside (per WDAF). He was sentenced to probation, alcohol awareness classes, and 12 hours of community service (via WAFF). Meanwhile, Ethan's home life was quite toxic. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, Tonya Couch alleged that Fred was physically and emotionally abusive toward her, and the couple split in 2006.

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.

Fred Couch

Fred Couch had troubles with the law before his son started his criminal activities. According to a 2013 Daily Mail report, he had racked up a list of 22 criminal accusations by that time, 18 of which were vehicle infractions, the other four misdemeanors. A sampling of the items on his rap sheet includes driving 95 mph in a 60 mph zone, writing a bad check, evading arrest, and assault (against his wife). Though he paid restitution here and there, he never served a day in jail, spurring an employee at the Johnson County court records office to quip that Couch "must have a very good attorney."

In 2014, according to KDFW, police responded to a disturbance and found Fred Couch at the scene, during which time he told officers he was a "reserve officer" and that he had "police stuff" in his car; he also flashed a badge. In fact, Couch was never a police officer in any jurisdiction, and he was charged with impersonating a police officer.

Tonya Couch

Tonya Couch's most famous run-in with the law was attached to her son's activities. In November 2015, Ethan Couch was serving his probation for the fatal car crash, and video emerged showing him drinking at a party, according to the Chicago Tribune. Authorities wanted to talk to him about this, as that would have been a violation of his parole, but he missed a parole appointment, and he became a wanted man.

In fact, Ethan, with the help of his mother, had fled to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, though they were later caught and extradited to the U.S. (via Talking Points Memo). Ethan was, for the first time in his life, put inside a jail cell, while Tonya was charged with money laundering. That wouldn't be Tonya's only brush with the law, however. In 2003, according to the New York Daily News, she pleaded guilty to reckless driving after running another motorist off the road. And in 2015, she was charged with leaving the scene of an accident after causing a minor wreck; prosecutors dismissed the charges.

The Couches Today

As recently as 2019, Fred Couch was still getting into trouble with the law. According to KXAS, he was accused of grabbing his girlfriend and choking her. A grand jury declined to levy charges. Meanwhile, his business, Cleburne Metal Works, is still a thing, and Fred Couch is listed as the "principal" (via Dun & Bradstreet).

Tonya Couch, for her part, is still trying to fight the money-laundering charges she incurred for helping Ethan escape to Mexico; or at least, she was as recently as April 2022, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. A 2016 Dallas Observer report suggested she was broke, although the true status of her bank account was unclear.

As for Ethan Couch, in January 2022, Radar Online reported that a documentary about him was in the works. Writer Bernie Zilio wrote that "his behavior continues to this day." However, what Zilio meant by that is unclear; Ethan actually appears to have kept his nose clean since his 2018 release from jail (he served two years behind bars after being extradited from Mexico, CNN reports). In January 2022, according to The Dallas Morning News, he was jailed again for violating parole after he tested positive for THC in his system, but he was later released after the accuracy of the test was called into question.