I was prompted to post about Ethan Couch after Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), one of my favorite organizations, just emailed a list of its national accomplishments in 2016. Its top one was in our infamous case, where MADD helped convince a judge to give Couch the maximum sentence. Unfortunately, it was less than two years in jail, far less than the 20 years originally requested by prosecutors.
And it was in January one year ago when the “affluenza teen” was extradited to Fort Worth after fleeing to Mexico after he violated his generous probated sentence by drinking alcohol.
You’ll probably remember that the barely 16-year-old got extremely drunk at midnight in June of 2013 and sped down a dark residential road in Burleson in a huge pickup truck. Then Couch plowed into four people standing next to a disabled vehicle, killing them. He also maimed a young man riding in the bed of his pickup truck, whom I represented in the first lawsuit filed against Couch and his father’s company.
The case made international news after a defense psychologist said Couch suffered from “affluenza” and his spoiled upbringing should spare him from punishment. Then the judge gave Couch a probated 10 year sentence and several months at a rehab facility.
What happens next?
Couch will be released from jail next year and will be on probation through 2014. He will continue to be banned from drinking alcohol, using drugs, or driving and faces 20 years in jail if he violates the terms which judging by his past behavior, appears likely.
Meanwhile, the legal troubles of his mother and father, who D Magazine called “the worst parents ever,” continue.
Tonya Couch is awaiting trial for aiding her son in the escape and for money laundering after withdrawing $30,000.00 to pay for the trip. She was last reported working as a bartender at the Honky Tonk Woman Saloon, at all places.
Fred Couch was just convicted of pretending to be a police officer in North Richland Hills, while police were called out to his house after a disorderly conduct complaint lodged by his girlfriend.
My young client has a horrific brain injury and cannot move. The surviving families will always mourn their grievous losses. The New York Times wrote about about this heart breaking story and asked about the court’s lenient punishment:
Bill Berenson, a lawyer for Mr. Molina’s parents, said his clients were stunned by the sentence. “Their son is paralyzed, four people are dead and the perpetrator gets his wrists slapped,” he said. “How could they not feel that his affluence kept him from serving time?”
Now Couch is the poster boy of young drunk drivers and over privileged youth who are not punished by the court system. For example, when the Stanford freshman swimmer Brock Turner raped an unconscious woman in January of 2015 and was only given six months in jail, then only served three, another international outcry erupted with his sentence compared to Couch’s.
So this horrendous case case is not over and never will be.
The drunk driving epidemic continues
There will unfortunately be more crashes like this one, some with the same devastating results.
In the year after the civil lawsuits against the Couch family and its business were concluded, almost 4,500 people were arrested for driving while intoxicated — just here in the four counties that comprise the Metroplex. Dallas had 2,304 DWI’s and Tarrant had 1,555 of them. That’s over 12 a day — and those were just the drunks who got pulled over. A whopping number of Texans (886) died in DWI crashes that year, almost three a day.
The statistics for 2016 haven’t been released yet but will be even higher. That’s insane.
This is why I support MADD. I’m also honored to be one of its five approved attorneys in Tarrant County. I’ve represented many victims of drunk driving crashes over the past 36 years.
Ethan Couch reminded us that probation and slaps on the wrist don’t work. Drunk drivers need to have the book thrown at them. They need to be convicted, jailed, and fined in the criminal courts. And lawsuits must be filed, verdicts taken, assets taken away, higher insurance premiums assessed, and notoriety assigned in the civil courts where I practice.
This alarming problem just keeps getting worse.
Texas state legislators, who began their biennial session in Austin on Wednesday, need to worry about burning issues like the rampant DWI’s that can kill and ruin the lives of Texans.
We’ve got to do a better job of keeping drunk drivers like Ethan Couch off our roads.