Published December 29, 2015
Texas authorities may seek adult prison for Ethan Couch — the Texas teen who used affluence, or 'affluenza,' as a juvenile defense to skip jail time for a drunk-driving accident that killed four people — after they announced he was taken into custody with his mother, Tonya, by Mexican authorities Monday in Puerto Vallarta, nearly two weeks after the 18-year-old failed to show up for a probation appointment.
The announcement was made during a late-morning press conference where authorities laid out possible legal options for the state to pursue. Couch will have a court hearing on Jan. 19 where the district attorney will motion to move the juvenile case to adult court. The juvenile judge will make the decision on where the case will be heard.
Couch and his mother were located and arrested by Mexican authorities on a road in the resort city of Puerto Vallarta. Couch, who was previously known to have blond hair, had brown hair but authorities were able to make a positive identification.
Authorities said it appears that the two planned the escape.
"They even had something that was almost akin to a going-away party before leaving town," Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said.
Anderson said an arrest warrant would be issued for Couch's mother, Tonya Couch, on charges of hindering an apprehension. A prosecutor says that during a hearing next month they plan to ask a judge to transfer Ethan Couch's case to adult court.
Couch's attorneys, Scott Brown and Reagan Wynn, said in a statement they won't comment on the case until they speak with their client, which likely won't happen before Couch reaches the U.S. The two were being held at immigration offices in the state capital, Guadalajara, and would be returned to the United States aboard a commercial flight to Houston sometime Tuesday.
"They are going to be sent back to their country, given that they were in Mexico improperly," Ariel Vera said. "They would have had to enter, for example, as tourists, but they entered without registering."
Mexico's Jalisco state prosecutors' office said its agents had been working with American authorities since Dec. 26 to track down and capture Couch and his mother.
They were found in a dowdy section of Puerto Vallarta's old town, far from the glitzy resorts, golf courses and high-rise hotels of the city's newer section. The street corner where they were found is dotted with a small sandwich shop, a taco stand, and a mom-and-pop corner store. A playground and a day-care center with a fence topped with razor wire stand nearby.
Couch was apparently trying to lie low; a photo distributed by the Jalisco state prosecutor's office show him in detention with his blond hair dyed black and his normally blondish beard a light brown.
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.
Couch was driving drunk and speeding on a dark two-lane road south of Fort Worth in June 2013 when he crashed into a disabled SUV off to the side, killing four people and injuring several others, including passengers in Couch's pickup truck.
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.
The U.S. Marshals Service had issued a wanted poster promising a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to Ethan Couch's whereabouts and capture.
The Associated Press contributed to this report