'Affluenza Teen' to Return to Houston: Authorities - NBC New York
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'Affluenza Teen' to Return to Houston: Authorities

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    Ethan Couch Tried to Blend With Tourists in Mexico

    After weeks of searching, authorities caught up with "affluenza" teen Ethan Couch Monday in a Mexican resort town. (Published Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015)

    A Texas teenager serving probation for killing four people in a drunken-driving wreck after invoking an "affluenza" defense will return to Houston on Wednesday on a commercial flight from Guadalajara, Mexico, according to authorities. 

    Ethan Couch, 18, was detained in Mexico after a cellphone used to order pizza gave away their location, weeks after he and his mother disappeared, authorities say.

    Mexico's Jalisco state prosecutors' office said in a statement that its agents had been working with American authorities via the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara since Dec. 26 to track down and capture Couch and his mother, 48-year-old Tonya Couch.

    Ethan Couch, before and after his arrest in Mexico.

    Jalisco state prosecutor Eduardo Almaguer Ramirez said U.S. authorities knew the mother and son were in Puerto Vallarta because of a phone call to Domino's Pizza.

    A U.S. Marshals Service agent tipped authorities in Mexico to the location of the phone on Monday, according to a police report issued by the Jalisco state prosecutors' office. The phone had been used to order pizza for a room at a condominium complex in the beach resort city.

    When agents went to the condo, the Couches had already moved on, but a tourism operator pointed agents to the mother and son's new home at an apartment in Puerto Vallarta's old town.

    Agents set up a surveillance operation in the area and found the Couches that night.

    After their detention, they were handed over to Mexican immigration authorities for deportation.

    Samantha Jordan, spokeswoman for the Tarrant County district attorney's office, said Ethan and Tonya Couch had been under investigation in Mexico since Friday and were arrested at about 6 p.m. local time Monday.

    Ethan Couch vanished after failing to show up for a scheduled meeting with a probation officer Dec. 10, leading authorities to issue the juvenile equivalent of an arrest warrant for him. His mother had been listed as a missing person by the Tarrant County district attorney's office.

    Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson has said he believes the two fled in late November after a video surfaced that appears to show Couch at a party where people were drinking. If found to be drinking, Couch's probation could be revoked and he could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.

    A spokesman for the Tarrant County Sheriff's Department has declined to say whether Tonya Couch is facing any charges. There was no immediate comment Monday night from the U.S. Marshals Service, which had issued a wanted poster promising a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to Couch's whereabouts and capture.

    In June 2013 at age 16, Ethan Couch was driving drunk and speeding on a dark, two-lane road south of Fort Worth when he crashed into a disabled SUV, killing four people. Among the injured were some of the seven teens in Ethan Couch's pickup.

    He pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury. Because of his age, he wasn't certified as an adult for trial and a judge sentenced him in juvenile court to 10 years' probation and a stint in a rehabilitation center.

    During the sentencing phase of his juvenile court trial, Ethan Couch's attorneys relied on a defense expert who argued that the teen's wealthy parents coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility — a condition the expert termed affluenza. The condition is not recognized as a medical diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, and its invocation drew widespread criticism and ridicule.

    According to Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson, Ethan Couch showed no remorse after the crash. "We saw absolutely no guilt or bad feelings or sympathy toward the four families and the four lives that he'd taken," Anderson said.

    An attorney representing the families of two of Ethan Couch's victims said Tuesday that "everybody is glad it got done this quickly."

    "I don't think anybody is terribly surprised from my clients' end or myself. We didn't think they would be very successful at this effort (to flee)," said attorney Greg Coontz, who represents the families of Brian Jennings and Kevin McConnell.

    Coontz said the Couches going to Mexico was like something out of a "B movie."

    "They die their hair, they drive down there and they're in a resort town that Americans go to all the time – just not surprising. (It) seemed like a terribly poorly thought-out plan," Coontz said.

    "My clients are glad because it moves it to the next chapter of what's going to happen to him" Coontz added.