Texas teen gets probation after killing 4; uses wealth as defense

acarlson@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 12, 2013 

— Ethan Couch, 16, has admitted to four counts of manslaughter after he and a large group of his friends stole alcohol and then ran over several pedestrians with a vehicle in June.

Though Couch faced up to 20 years in prison, he was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years' probation by a judge who said that Couch could be rehabilitated with therapy and without contact from his parents.

Couch's defense has maintained that he suffers from "affluenza" and that his life of extreme privilege had prevented him from understanding the full weight and consequences of his actions.

“He never learned that sometimes you don’t get your way. He had the cars and he had the money. He had freedoms that no young man would be able to handle,” said a court-assigned psychologist in court, according to TIME.

Three people — Hollie Boyles, 52, her daughter Shelby Boyles, 21, and Brian Jennings, 41 — had been gathered to help a woman, 24-year-old Breanna Mitchell, whose SUV had a blown-out tire. All four were struck and killed by Couch's truck, which then "hit Jenning’s pickup truck, in which two young boys were waiting, sending it into the roadway, where it collided with an eastbound Volkswagon carrying two Burleson girls, before going off the south side of the road. Couch’s truck flipped over and landed against a tree on the north side of the road," according to the Cleburne Times-Review.

Investigators believe Couch was driving almost 70 miles per hour in a 40 miles per hour zone. At the time, his BAC was .24, three times the legal limit; he also had Valium in his system.

Couch's attorneys hope he will be sent to a private center for a year, which offers one-on-one therapy at the cost of almost $450,000. The judge has prevented Couch from contacting his parents for at least six months.

There are five civil suits for wrongful death pending against Couch; at least one of them names his father as a defendant.

"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," Couch's defense attorney Scott Brown said at the time.

Correction: an earlier version of this story misspelled Couch's name and incorrectly stated the potential cost of his future treatment.

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