Chris Van Horne, NBC 5 Fort Worth Reporter
Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said the investigation into a crash that killed four pedestrians last month is nearly complete. Anderson said the driver of the truck in the accident, had a blood alcohol level of .24, or three times the legal limit of .08.
A North Texas teenager has admitted that he is responsible in the drunken driving crash that killed four people last summer.
Ethan Couch, 16, was in juvenile court Wednesday on four counts of intoxication manslaughter. He did not take the stand, but in prepared testimony Couch “plead true to all the offenses” against him.
Judge Jean Boyd will decide Couch’s sentence.
On Wednesday, Boyd listened as a an accident investigation specialist detailed the crash. Through accident data it was determined that Couch was likely accelerating near 70 mph at the time of the crash and that he never applied the brakes.
The June 15 crash killed Breanna Mitchell, 24, mother and daughter Hollie, 42, and Shelby, 21, and youth pastor Brian Jennings, 43, along Burleson-Retta Road in Tarrant County.
Mitchell’s car got a flat and she stopped in the driveway next door to the Boyles family. Jennings had stopped to see if the women needed any help, when all four were struck and killed by a red Ford pickup truck driven by Couch.
The truck struck several vehicles, including Jennings’ truck where two 13-year-old boys were seated at the time of the crash. Ashlynn Evans, 18, had her Volkswagen side-swiped and pushed from the road. The 13-year-old’s suffered minor injuries and Evans was not hurt.
Riding in the red pickup truck were eight teenagers, including Couch. Six of the teens were in the cab of the truck, while two others were sitting in the bed of the truck. The pickup rolled over and became lodged in a tree.
One of those injured in the truck is Sergio Molina. Through written testimony, Dr. Fernando Acosta, with Cook Children’s Medical Center, said that Molina suffered a severe brain injury in the crash and will never function normally again. Molina cannot move, eat or talk and can only communicate by blinking his eyes.
Marla Mitchell, Breanna’s mother, cried several times in the courtroom on Wednesday. Around her neck is a rose locket which contains some of Breanna’s ashes. During a break in the hearing she spoke to the media about what the last six months have been like for her family.
“My life will never be the same,” Mitchell said. “Nothing they sentence that boy with or nothing he has to go through can ever replace her, or these other families, can never fix this.”
She didn’t find solace in Couch’s written testimony that said the crimes he’s accused of are true.
“I’m kind of old school, personally, what’s it worth on paper,” Mitchell said.
She said his ultimate punishment is up to God, but hopes the shattered lives in that courtroom will serve as a deterrent to other teenagers not to drink and drive.
“This has covered so many people’s lives and these few families (have been) affected in their lifetimes by this one boy’s senseless act,” she said.
Teenager Details Events of June 15th
The key testimony came from a 15-year-old girl who was among those in the red truck and spending the night hanging out with Couch at his home nearby in Burleson. The teen testified that after Couch picked her up and arrived at his house, alcohol was already available to the teenagers and she saw Couch consume Everclear on several occasions.
At one point in the night they went to Keller to pick-up four other teens who were friends of Couch’s and they tried to buy beer nearby. They were unsuccessful in their attempt, but later at the Burleson Wal-Mart the teens stole several cases of beer.
The teen testified that at about 11:30 p.m. she wanted to go back home, but Couch was too drunk to drive her home. She and another teen tried calling several cab companies but only got voice mail. She got permission from her mother to stay the night, but the girl needed feminine hygiene products. Unable to find any in the house, Ethan said they would drive to the corner store to get some.
Several teens testified, through written testimony agreed to by both sets of attorneys, that they tried to convince Couch not to drive. However he refused their requests and eventually they gave in. The teenage girl said she didn’t consume alcohol at all that evening.
Not long after they turned onto Burleson-Retta Road the teen-aged girl said Couch began to drive too fast. She told him to slow down and he moved into the opposite lane. Another teen testified that a car coming the opposite way was maybe only 100 feet from them when Couch veered to the right and lost control.
Several teens testified that they had been to Couch’s house before and alcohol was always available.
Couch Tried to Leave Accident Scene
After the crash happened several of the teens in the car walked back to Couch’s house to call 911 and their parents. Most returned to the scene where they met with police and were eventually taken to area hospitals. At least one teenager called his mother who picked him up from the crash site.
In written testimony, a teenager who lived several blocks away said he read about the crash online through DFWScanner’s Facebook page. He asked his parents if they could go to the scene in case it involved anyone he might know.
As they approached the scene they saw police and fire trucks had already arrived, but they also noticed a boy passed out along the side of the road. In testimony from a MedStar EMT, Ethan Couch was found by this family and later taken into custody by a Fort Worth police officer a quarter of a mile from the crash scene.
Both the teenager and MedStar EMT Stephen Stefkin said Couch appeared intoxicated and was combative with answering questions.
In the 17-year-old’s testimony he said Couch got up at one point and tried to walk to a nearby field but walked into a barbed wire fence. The teen also said Couch said his family would get him out of anything. The teen testified that it was a “new level of drunkenness I’d never seen before.”
Stefkin said Couch was belligerent and refused to answer basic questions. Couch was listed as walking wounded only having suffered cuts and bruises in the crash.
Testimony read by a registered nurse, who took blood samples from Couch, said the first blood draw done for medical testing at 2:20 a.m. the next morning showed Couch’s blood alcohol level was at .277.
A second blood sample drawn at 3:27 a.m., after Tarrant County Sheriff’s investigators had gotten a warrant to collect the sample, later showed that Couch's blood-alcohol level was 0.24, or three times the legal limit.
Testimony read from a toxicologist at the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office stated that a BAC of that level makes you 80 times more likely to be in a motor vehicle accident.
Families Weep as Victim Injuries Described
The packed court room, which was standing room only, held three rows of family and friends of the victims of the crash. Many cried and weeped as testimony from the medical examiner’s office was read aloud. It was also said that all four killed likely died almost immediately upon impact.
The details of the injuries to those killed were gruesome, as were the descriptions by many witnesses who detailed what they heard and saw near the crash site. It was described several times that body parts were found throughout the area.
After the facts of that night were presented to the judge, family members took the stand to provide victim impact statements. The first to testify was Eric Boyles, husband and father of two of those killed. Through tears and moments of breaking down Boyles said his life the last 24 weeks hasn’t been easy.
Boyles was with Mitchell, Hollie and Shelby out by the street about 10 minutes before the crash. He said no cars were on the street for most of the night. He was in the house when he said he felt a jolt and then heard the crash. Before he reached the street he was already calling 911.
“They were safe when I left them,” Boyles testified.
Boyles then described the frantic scene, trying to find his wife and daughter. He eventually found his wife, dead in the street. And later found his daughter, Shelby, near the fence in his yard. He provided many other gruesome details that are not suitable for print.
Jennings had pulled up just minutes before the fatal crash, according to testimony from the two 13-year-old passengers in his truck. Eric Boyles said he wasn't there when Jennings was at the scene.
More victim impact statements will be read on Thursday morning as the hearing continues.