The mother of a Texas teenager, derided over a claim of “affluenza” as a defense for his deadly drunken-driving crash, arrived in the United States on Thursday after deportation from Mexico while her son won a delay in his extradition, officials said.
Ethan Couch, 18, and his mother, Tonya Couch, 48, were captured in the Mexican Pacific Coast city of Puerto Vallarta on Monday. They fled there after officials in Tarrant County, Texas, began an investigation into whether Ethan violated the probation deal that kept him out of prison after he killed four people with his pickup truck in 2013.
Tonya Couch, who was wanted on a charge of hindering apprehension, was flown out of Mexico and landed in Los Angeles early Thursday en route to Texas. She could be seen in video coverage being led through the airport in handcuffs.
Bond has been set at $1 million for the mother, who may not arrive in Tarrant County until Friday, local TV broadcaster WFAA cited county prosecutors as saying. Local officials have not released a time for her expected arrival.
If convicted of the hindering charge, Tonya Couch could face two to 10 years in prison, Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said.
It was unclear when Ethan Couch would be returned to the United States. He has been transferred from Puerto Vallarta to a detention facility in Mexico City, Mexican immigration officials said.
The Couches had filed an injunction to delay their extradition and a judge in Mexico would have up to 72 hours to consider the injunction, they said.
Anderson said he was not surprised by the pair seeking the delay.
“They have done everything that they can so far to avoid being accountable, or avoid being brought to justice,” he said. “Any roadblock they can put in the way, any hurdle, I fully expect that.”
Anderson said when Ethan Couch arrives in the United States, he would appear at a detention hearing in the juvenile system. The judge could keep him in a juvenile detention facility or send him to an adult jail, he said.
During Ethan Couch’s trial in juvenile court over the crash in 2013, a psychologist testified on his behalf that he was afflicted with “affluenza,” and was so spoiled by his wealth that he could not tell the difference between right and wrong.
The diagnosis is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and was widely ridiculed.
Couch was convicted on four counts of intoxication manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years of drink- and drug-free probation, which critics saw as leniency because of his family’s wealth. His flight to Mexico rekindled anger over that sentence.
Couch and his mother fled the United States earlier this month after a video surfaced online apparently showing Ethan Couch at a party where beer was being consumed.
In the car crash, Couch, then 16, was speeding and had a blood-alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit when he lost control of his pickup truck and struck a stranded motorist and three people who had stopped to help.
During their last days in Puerto Vallarta, Couch and his mother lived in a modest apartment, kept a low profile and at least once used a false name as they tried to stay under the radar, local people and neighbors said.
(Additional reporting by Maurice Richter in Fort Worth; Editing by Bill Trott)