The families of victims who were injured or killed in a drunken-driving crash in Texas expressed outrage Wednesday after the teen driver who avoided jail time in the crash was ordered to go to a rehabilitation facility paid for by his parents.
State District Judge Jean Boyd again decided to give no jail time for Ethan Couch, defense attorney Reagan Wynn and prosecutors told reporters after the hearing, which was closed to the public. Prosecutors had asked Boyd to sentence him to 20 years in state custody on charges related to two people who were severely injured.
Couch was previously sentenced to 10 years’ probation in the crash that killed four people in June 2013. The sentence stirred fierce debate, as has the testimony of a defense expert who says Couch’s wealthy parents coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility. The expert termed the condition “affluenza.”
Couch was 16 at the time of the accident. His blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit for an adult and there were traces of Valium in his system when he lost control of his pickup truck and plowed into a group of people helping a woman whose car had stalled.
Seven passengers were riding in Couch’s truck. One, Sergio Molina, is paralyzed and can communicate only by blinking. The other, Solimon Mohmand, suffered numerous broken bones and internal injuries.
After the hearing, family members of the victims told MyFoxDFW.com they were upset Couch again avoided jail time, and said they believed Couch got off easily because his parents were rich.
“Had he not had money to have the defense there, to also have the experts testify and also offer to pay for the treatment, I think the results would have been different,” Eric Broyles, whose wife and daughter were killed, told the station.
“No amount of money or prestige or status is ever gonna grant them immunity to what they all chose for their life that caused this to our lives,” said Marla Mitchell, whose daughter, Breanna, was killed.
Alexander Lemus, Molina’s older brother, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram the judge’s rulings are an injustice to his family.
“You’re drunk and high and you’ve got kids yelling at you to stop,” Lemus told the newspaper. “There should have been some time served. There should be repercussions and consequences for everything that you do.”
Wynn and prosecutor Richard Alpert would not identify the facility where Couch will go or where it is located. The teen’s family previously had offered to pay for Couch to go to a $450,000-a-year rehabilitation center near Newport Beach, Calif.
Couch, who’s currently in state custody, is expected to receive alcohol and drug rehab, and could face prison time if he runs away from the facility or violates any other terms of his probation, Alpert said.
There is no minimum amount of time Couch must spend in the facility before his release, prosecutor Riley Shaw said.
Wynn ripped the media and the public’s focus on “affluenza” and said that his client was misunderstood.
He said reporting of the Couch case had “so twisted the facts that were actually presented in court that I don’t think the truth will ever be able to come out now.”
But Alpert accused Wynn of hypocrisy, pointing out that a defense witness made the comment in the first place.
“His witnesses don’t say things by accident,” Alpert said. “So they thought maybe that would help — that’s my interpretation — and it blew up on them. It was a stupid thing to say.”
Asking Boyd to give Couch jail time for intoxication assault was a last-ditch effort by prosecutors, who have said they have almost no way to appeal the judge’s sentence in the case.
Alpert said he hoped the Couch case would lead the Texas Legislature to allow juries to sentence some juvenile defendants. The case has already spurred calls for potential changes. Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who serves as president of the Senate, has asked for a study of sentencing guidelines in intoxication manslaughter cases.
Six civil lawsuits that have been filed against Couch, his parents and the family’s company, according to the Star-Telegram. Marla Mitchell, Breanna Mitchell’s mother, told the newspaper that no amount of money will allow Couch to escape his guilt.
“I don’t believe the world will ever take their eyes off him,” Mitchell said.