FORT WORTH, Texas – Attorneys for a Texas teenager known for using an “affluenza” defense in a fatal drunken-driving wreck said Tuesday that they’re investigating whether the 18-year-old fled to Mexico or was taken against his will.
Authorities allege that Ethan Couch and his mother fled to Mexico in December, as Texas prosecutors investigated whether he may have violated his probation in the 2013 drunken-driving case.
Couch’s attorney, Scott Brown, said after a hearing in the case that whether his client “was voluntarily or involuntarily taken to Mexico is something that is still being investigated.”
Attorneys for his mother, Tonya Couch, declined comment after the hearing.
Tuesday’s juvenile court hearing was scheduled to determine whether Couch, who is jailed in Mexico, violated his probation and if the case should be transferred to adult court. But the judge cut the hearing short after Couch’s attorneys said his parents weren’t properly notified. It wasn’t immediately clear if another hearing was scheduled.
The drunken-driving case drew widespread derision after an expert called by Couch’s lawyers argued he had been coddled into a sense of irresponsibility by his wealthy parents, a condition the expert called “affluenza.”
The condition is not recognized as a medical diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association.
Investigators said Couch was driving at three times the legal intoxication limit for adults when he crashed a pickup truck into a crowd of people trying to help a stranded motorist. Four people were killed and several were wounded.
A juvenile court judge sentenced Couch, who was 16 at the time of the crash, to 10 years’ probation. The ruling outraged prosecutors who had called for him to face detention time.
Authorities apprehended Couch and his mother, Tonya Couch, last month in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Tonya Couch was quickly deported and has been released on bond in Texas. The 48-year-old is charged with hindering the apprehension of a felon.
Ethan Couch remains in a Mexico City jail, where he is contesting his deportation.