Last month, the nation was shocked by a teenager who killed two young women in a car accident after posting a Twitter message saying she was “2 drunk 2 care.” Well, another drunk-driving teen, this one who killed four people and injured nine others, mounted a courtroom defense that could be summed up as “2 rich 2 care.”
And the judge bought it, letting 16-year-old rich kid Ethan Couch off with nothing but probation for a horrific June crash in a suburb of Fort Worth, Texas.
The drunken Couch was driving 70 mph in a 40-mph zone with a blood-alcohol level three times the adult legal limit when he plowed his pickup truck carrying seven other teens into four people changing a tire off the side of the road.
Couch faced up to 20 years in prison — though as a juvenile he likely would have served far fewer — but Judge Jean Boyd apparently concurred with a defense psychologist who said that the boy suffered from “affluenza.” In other words, his rich parents always got him out of trouble, so he never learned the simple life lesson: Actions have consequences.
The teen enjoyed “freedoms no young person should have,” the psychologist testified.
Boyd took the recommendation of the shrink, Dr. G Dick Miller, who said that what Couch needed was therapy — and no contact with his parents. So she agreed that instead of sending him to the slammer, Couch should serve 10 years of probation, started off by a course of gold-plated treatments that few people could hope to afford.
At $1,200 per day and an estimated total cost of close to half-a-million dollars, Couch’s father, Fred Couch, has agreed to foot the whole bill. But Couch may not have contact with his wealthy family for two years while in therapy.
Fred Couch owns a Fort Worth manufacturing firm, Cleburne Sheet Metal. The 27-year-old corporation describes itself on its website as “one of the premier architectural and structural metal roofing companies in the United States.”
Testifying on the teen’s behalf, Miller described an upbringing of carefree privilege for the youth, the kind only money can buy — a lot of money.
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For example, Miller pointed out, a year ago Couch, then 15, was found parked in a pickup truck with a drunk, unconscious and near-naked 14-year-old girl, but faced no discipline beyond a ticket.
The psychologist described the boy as lacking emotional responses from years of getting anything he wanted from his parents, who let him drive starting at age 13.
He was behind the wheel of a pickup owned by his father’s company when, driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.24, he killed 24-year-old Breanna Mitchell, whose vehicle was pulled over with a flat tire, and three neighborly passers-by who were helping her change it: youth pastor and father of three Brian Jennings, 41, and mother-daughter pair Hollie and Shelby Boyles, 52 and 21 years old.
The teens in the pickup reportedly stole the alcohol that they consumed that night, after they were turned away from buying it for being underage.
Couch and his parents face at least five lawsuits claiming millions in damages from families of his victims. Cleburne Sheet Metal is also named in the lawsuits, for owning the truck that Couch was permitted to drive.
Sources: KDFW TV, WFAA TV, Dallas Morning News, Cleburne Times-Review, CBS 11 TV