Ethan Couch, the Texas teenager who used an "affluenza" defense in a fatal drunken-driving crash, arrived at a Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport Thursday morning following his deportation from Mexico earlier in the day, more than a month after he and his mother fled the U.S. as prosecutors investigated whether he had violated his probation.
Couch, who arrived at D/FW just before 11 a.m. aboard an AeroMexico Connection flight, could be seen walking through the airport escorted by law enforcement. Couch arrived at Lynn Ross Juvenile Detention Center in Fort Worth sometime before noon.
Couch was apprehended with his mother in the Mexican resort city of Puerto Vallarta on Dec. 28, after a call for delivery pizza 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 drunken-driving crash, and the terms prohibit him from drinking or leaving Tarrant County, Texas.
During the trial in that case, a defense 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 recognized as a medical diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, and its use drew widespread derision.
Couch initially fought deportation, but his attorneys 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 Thursday by the Mexican immigration institute showed Couch wearing a bluish camouflage-print hoodie, being escorted out of the detention center before dawn, and being escorted onto 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 center.
Couch's Mexican lawyer, Fernando Benitez, said Tuesday that 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," Benitez said.
Ethan Couch will be held in a juvenile detention center 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.
What Happens Next?
On Thursday afternoon, Couch's attorneys released the following statement:
As we previously indicated would happen, Ethan voluntarily returned to the United States today. As required by the Texas Family Code, the 323rd District Court will conduct a brief detention hearing tomorrow concerning Ethan’s status pending further proceedings in this case. We expect the Judge to order Ethan to remain in the Tarrant County Juvenile Detention Facility at this time.
Now that Ethan is back in Tarrant County and will be personally present in court at the upcoming hearing on the State’s Motion to Transfer, we anticipate that the Court will lawfully transfer his probation to an appropriate Tarrant County District Court with adult criminal jurisdiction. Under the law, the transfer will become effective upon Ethan’s nineteenth birthday in April. We are optimistic that, going forward, Ethan will comply with all court-imposed terms and conditions and that he will successfully complete his term of probation.
-- Scott Brown and Wm. Reagan Wynn Counsel for Ethan Couch
A separate hearing is scheduled for Feb. 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 for each person killed in the 2013 crash, a total of 40 years. Read more about what happens next in the Ethan Couch case, here.