Saturday 17 March 2018

Deported 'affluenza' teenager back in US

Ethan Couch is escorted by Mexican immigration agents at the international airport in Mexico City (Instituto Nacional de Migracin, INM via AP)
Ethan Couch is escorted by Mexican immigration agents at the international airport in Mexico City (Instituto Nacional de Migracin, INM via AP)

A Texas teenager who used an "affluenza" defence after a fatal drink-driving crash has arrived at a US airport following his deportation from Mexico.

Ethan Couch, 18, arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and could be seen walking through the airport escorted by law enforcement.

Couch was apprehended with his mother in the Mexican resort city of Puerto Vallarta on December 28, after a call for pizza delivery tipped off authorities to their whereabouts.

Authorities believe Couch and his mother fled Texas in her pickup truck after an online video appeared to show Ethan Couch at a party where people were drinking. Couch had been sentenced to 10 years' probation in juvenile court for the 2013 drink-driving crash, and the terms prohibit him from drinking or leaving Tarrant County, Texas.

During the trial in that case, a defence witness argued that Couch had been coddled into a sense of irresponsibility by his wealthy parents, a condition the expert called "affluenza". The condition is not recognised as a medical diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, and its use drew widespread derision.

Couch initially fought deportation, but his lawyers recently dropped the fight.

Uniformed Mexican immigration agents put Couch on a commercial flight from Mexico City to Texas on Thursday morning.

Couch's mother, Tonya Couch, was quickly deported after she and her son were found in Mexico. She is charged with hindering the apprehension of a felon. She was released on bond in early January, after being fitted with an electronic ankle GPS monitor, to the home of another son.

According to an arrest warrant, Tonya Couch is accused of telling her estranged husband, Fred Couch, that he would never see her or his son again before fleeing.

A detention warrant was issued for Ethan Couch in December after he missed a meeting with his probation officer. Investigators said he appeared to have tried to disguise himself by dying his blond hair black and his beard brown when he and his mother were found in Mexico.

Video released by the Mexican immigration institute showed Couch wearing a blueish camouflage-print hoodie, being escorted out of the detention centre before dawn, and being escorted on to the plane by four agents. He had been in immigration custody for 28 days.

Couch is seen with a full, light-brown beard on the institute's video, showing little emotion as he is placed aboard a pickup truck and driven out of the gated detention centre.

Couch's Mexican lawyer, Fernando Benitez, said Ethan Couch had formally ratified his decision to drop the appeal on Monday.

"I gave him several options, but he decided to go to Texas to face whatever charges he faces," Mr Benitez said.

Ethan Couch will be held in a juvenile detention centre in Fort Worth, where a juvenile judge will hold a hearing to decide whether to continue to hold him there, book him in an adult jail or let him go, according to Tarrant County sheriff Dee Anderson.

A separate hearing is scheduled for February 19 to determine whether Couch's case is transferred to the adult system. If it is transferred and Couch violates his probation again, he could face up to 10 years in prison per death.

Press Association

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