Affluent drunk driving teen who killed 4 sentenced to probation on 'affluenza' defense
Ethan Couch, 16, had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.24 when he crashed into four people who had pulled over to assist a stranded driver on June 15. Couch’s BAC was three times the legal limit for an adult over the age of 21. Prosecutors said Couch and his friends had stolen beer from a Walmart located near the site of the accident outside the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
All four of the pedestrians were killed: the driver of the stranded vehicle, a mother and daughter who stopped to help, and a youth minister who did the same. Couch’s two 15-year-old friends were ejected from his vehicle in the crash. Solimon Mohman suffered a number of broken bones and internal injuries, while Sergio Molina can now only communicate with his eyes because he was paralyzed in the accident.
Couch admitted to drunk driving at the time, with seven passengers in his vehicle, and tests later revealed traces of Valium in his system.
Prosecutors asked State District Judge Jean Boyd to impose a 20-year sentence. Yet, despite the severity of Couch’s crime, Boyd handed down a sentence of just 10 years probation and mandated that the 16-year-old receive therapy at a long-term, inpatient facility near Newport Beach, California.
Defense attorneys pressed for such a sentence and told the court that Couch’s family would be willing to pay the estimated $450,000 for his therapy out-of-pocket. They blamed Couch’s actions on his upbringing, with a psychologist testifying that Couch’s parents used him as a weapon against each other and that the teen’s emotional age was close to 12.
“The teen never learned to say that you’re sorry if you hurt someone,” psychologist Gary Miller said. “If you hurt someone you sent him money.”
Miller said Couch’s parents gave him “freedoms no young person should have," raised in an environment of privilege that afforded him no understanding of actions and their consequences. The psychologist ultimately branded Couch a product of “affluenza.”
The perception that money has contributed to the case’s resolution has much of the surrounding community outraged. Families of the victims spoke in court and, while many admitted they have forgiven Couch, they said that justice had not been served. Prosecutor Richard Alpert said he was disappointed in Boyd’s decision and that “there can be no doubt that he will be in another courthouse one day blaming the lenient treatment here.”
Eric Boyles lost his wife in the crash earlier this year. He told the Star-Telegram that even though the families knew a harsh sentence wouldn’t bring back their loved ones, the disappointment was palpable.
“Money always seems to keep [Couch] out of trouble,” Boyles said. “Ultimately today, I felt that money did prevail. If [he] had been any other youth, I feel like the circumstances would have been different.”