A judge on Wednesday ordered so-called “affluenza teen” Ethan Couch to spend two years behind bars — 180 days for each of the four people he killed in a fatal 2013 drunken-driving wreck.
That’s likely to provide little comfort to the families of Breanna Mitchell, Brian Jennings, Hollie Boyles and Shelby Boyles , who already have spent more time without their loved ones than Couch is set to spend in jail.
“Never once has Ethan apologized in any shape or form,” Eric Boyles, whose wife, Hollie, and daughter, Shelby, were killed in the crash, told ABC in 2015.
Until Wednesday, Couch’s only punishment for the 2013 crash had been probation, leaving families little recourse except to seek financial compensation. Eric Boyles filed one suit seeking more than $1 million and Mitchell’s mom and Jennings’ wife each filed their own lawsuits.
Two passengers in Couch’s truck who were injured that night also sued him. One of those passengers, Sergio Molina, suffered brain damage and ultimately settled with Couch for $2 million in 2014.
Couch appeared in adult court Wednesday for the first time, as he is no longer considered a juvenile. He spent his 19th birthday on Monday in a Texas jail cell.
Judge Wayne Salvant sentenced Couch to four consecutive 180-day sentences (720 total days) – one for each victim he killed. It was not clear if that would include the time Couch has already spent in jail.
Couch was originally sentenced to probation for killing four people and seriously injuring two others in June 2013 when the then-16-year-old rammed a pickup truck into a crowd of people helping a disabled motorist. His blood-alcohol level was three times above the legal limit for adult drivers. Attorneys for Couch argued that his affluent life contributed to his wreckless actions, with one defense psychologist using the term “affluenza.”
Couch, however, appeared to violate the terms of his probation when he was seen at a party where alcohol was being served in an online video. After the video became public, Couch and his mother fled to Mexico in December. He was eventually captured and returned to the U.S. in January.
Salvant told prosecution and defense attorneys they had two weeks to review the ruling and see if they could “change my mind” about the sentence.
The 2013 fatal wreck wasn’t Couch’s first run-in with the law.
At 15, Couch was given two citations after a police officer found him behind the wheel of a pickup truck next to a half-naked girl, with an open vodka bottle on the backseat floor.
“I spoke with him at some length about the various consequences of his driving and drinking,” a police officer wrote in a report, “such as effects on (his) driver’s license and his path in life, especially DWI and even killing someone in a DWI.”
Couch’s father, Fred, runs a roofing and construction company and has faced lawsuits over a $100,000 debt and allegations of sexual harassment. Tonya, Couch’s mother, has been charged with hindering the apprehension of a felon for helping Ethan flee to Mexico.
Dr. Dick Miller, the psychologist who suggested Couch had “affluenza,” blamed Couch’s parents at his sentencing for having “taught him a system that’s 180 degrees from rational. If you hurt someone, say you’re sorry. In that family, if you hurt someone, send some money.”