On June 15 in Burleson, Texas, 16-year-old Ethan Couch and some friends stole beer from an area Walmart. After consuming the alcoholic beverages, Couch and seven others piled into his truck to go to another store. During that ride, Couch struck four pedestrians, killing them while two of the truck passengers riding in the back were tossed from the vehicle and severely injured.
Youth pastor Brian Jennings, a father of 3 who had just left his own son’s graduation party, was helping motorist Breanna Mitchell change a flat tire while Hollie and Shelby Boyles stood along the roadside. Couch, who admitted to driving the truck and was found to have a BAC of .24 and Valium in his system, plowed over all four having reached speeds nearing 70 mph in a 40 mph zone — taking their lives in the process.
Testimony from witnesses at the scene described Couch as belligerent, alleging that he said “I’m outta here” as he started to try to walk away from emergency crews.
Prosecutors charged Couch as a juvenile with four counts of intoxication manslaughter and pushed for a 20-year prison sentence. State District Judge Jean Boyd sentenced Couch to a decade of probation instead.
During his trial, Couch’s attorneys argued that his wealthy parents were responsible for the actions of that fateful evening because of the way they raised their son. They put a psychologist on the stand who testified that Couch was a product of wealth and privilege, getting whatever he wanted when he wanted it.
Expert Dick Miller argued that Couch suffered from “affluenza” and had “freedoms no young man should have.” The report via WFAA added that Miller explained:
“Couch’s parents gave no punishment after police ticketed the then-15-year-old when he was found in a parked pickup with a passed out, undressed 14-year-old girl. Miller also pointed out that Couch was allowed to drive at 13. He said the teen was emotionally flat and needed years of therapy.”
Thus, the defense argued, Couch needed treatment and not jail time.
During the time following the accident, Couch’s parents had him sent to Newport Academy in Orange County, California for drug and alcohol rehab, costing Couch’s father nearly $500,000, and that’s where his attorneys want him sent for a year. Couch wouldn’t be allowed to have any contact with his parents for at least six months.
The judge will decide where his treatment will take place after she stated that the decision was based on her belief that Couch was guilty of the crimes but that he can be rehabilitated with proper treatment and time spent away from his parents.
The husband of Hollie and father of Shelby Boyles, Eric Boyles, said of the decision handed down yesterday:
“Reliving the facts and the events was difficult, but probably nothing more difficult than today. Money always seems to keep Ethan out of trouble. This was one time I did ask the court for justice and for money not to prevail.”
Defense attorney Scott Brown stated, “We applaud Judge Boyd for having the courage to issue this sentence that’s going to give Ethan Couch a chance to develop into a productive citizen and try to make amends for his actions.”
There are already a number of wrongful death civil suits filed against Couch totaling in the tens of millions of dollars.