The Texas rich kid whose “affluenza” defense spared him jail time after he killed four bystanders with his car is trying to evade justice once again.
This time, Ethan Couch and his mother are on the lam—inciting a national spectacle two years after he got off scot-free for the deadly wreck. Last week, the U.S. Marshals Service issued a wanted poster and $5,000 reward.
And as Couch is being chased by the feds, passengers in his fatal 2013 joyride are speaking out. “Whenever I see this on the news I just think about the mess we’ve made… just to go into a party that lasted 15 minutes and ruined someone’s life,” one of Couch’s seven passengers, who requested anonymity, told The Daily Beast.
“I don’t know why he keeps getting into trouble when he’s on 10 years’ probation,” the passenger, who was a teen at the time of the wreck, added. “He knows he can lose that at any minute, and he just goes and has fun.”
Authorities believe the fugitive, 18, and his mom, Tonya Couch, 48, may be traveling in her black Harley-Davidson-model Ford pickup truck and are poring over hundreds of leads in the nationwide manhunt.
Couch and his coddling mother have been in the wind since Dec. 10, when he didn’t show for a visit with his probation officer.
“He continues to believe the law doesn’t apply to him, which is how he was raised,” said Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson at a press conference Monday. “If he has enough money, he can get out of it.”
The remorseless teen killer fled after someone tweeted a video appearing to show Couch participating in a beer pong game and claimed he was violating his probation by drinking alcohol.
It wasn’t enough that the teenage blueblood got off with 10 years of probation and a spell at a swanky rehab facility near Newport Beach, California, that offers yoga, “equine-assisted psychotherapy,” and mixed martial arts.
That was his paltry punishment for driving drunk and killing innocent bystanders who were trying to help a woman whose SUV broke down the night of June 15, 2013. Couch was driving a truck when he blew through a 45 mph zone at a whopping 70 mph and struck his victims: youth pastor Brian Jennings, Hollie and Shelby Boyles, and 24-year-old Breanna Mitchell.
A 16-year-old acquaintance, Sergio Molina, who was riding in Couch’s truck, was paralyzed.
Now that he has apparently violated the conditions of his probation, the 18-year-old could land in the “big boy” big house, according to authorities.
Tarrant County district attorney Sharen Wilson said she filed to move Couch’s case to adult court, where he could face 10 years in prison.
As for Tonya Couch, Sheriff Anderson has vowed to press charges against her if “there is any indication she is aiding [Ethan],” People magazine reported.
After all, the horror near Burleson damaged too many families and loved ones to be so easily forgiven.
Darlene Goodsell, the mother of one of the teenage passengers on Ethan Couch’s twisted joyride, was already raising two kids alone as a widow when the gruesome accident occurred.
“I think it’s terrible what [Tonya Couch] has done,” she told The Daily Beast. “I’m a widow with two kids, and this has been so hard on us.”
The idea that Tonya Couch would go on the run with her son, apparently to dodge his alleged probation violation, has ripped open wounds from two years ago.
“You just don’t do that,” Goodsell said. “You don’t go and take your kid on the run. I hope they get caught. They can’t keep running forever.
“There have been too many lives that have been harmed by these people,” she fumed.
Her son, Jacob, was only 15 years old at the time and had met the younger Couch just once or twice before. “My son knew the boy a little bit,” she said of a mutual friend they had. “He’d seen Ethan [Couch] before and he’d say, ‘Wow I can’t believe how rich he is.’”
The Goodsells were from nearby Keller, a less wealthy town than Burleson, where Couch grew up. Jacob told his mom he had no idea what he was getting into when he decided to take a spot in the backseat of Couch’s crash course pickup truck.
“Whenever my son has gone out of the house I leave my phone on,” Goodsell said.
In the witching hour the mother received an ominous phone call.
“The police called me in the middle of the night and they said, ‘We have your son and he’s being taken to the hospital,’” she recalled the officer telling her.
The distressed mother booked it to the hospital and found other parents waiting to get answers on the condition of their child.
“We all gathered together there,” Goodsell said of the other parents. All of the grownups were huddled together talking—except Fred and Tonya Couch.
“They were standoffish with us, probably because they didn’t want to speak to any of us Keller people. They probably think they’re better than us, for one thing,” she said of Ethan Couch’s parents’ exhibition of affluence. “That’s what money does to you, I think.”
But the fact that the two, who divorced in 2007, never made an approach at all weighed heavily on all the families in the waiting room, she said. “They knew their son was the one that drove the car that night and caused the accident, and our kids didn’t do anything.
“It was awkward,” Goodsell remembered.
Instead of offering salutations, the Couches smoked cigarettes in solitude.
“They were acting like snobby assholes, standing outside and smoking the whole time,” Goodsell recalled. “…They just kept smoking alone and didn’t want anything to do with us.”
Despite the silence from Couch’s parents, Goodsell received good news: Her son was safe. “He was OK and mostly shocked that something happened,” she said of her son’s concussion, which doctors believe he sustained from the impact of the crash. “He didn’t want to hear it. He just said, ‘I’m fine,’ and wanted to leave.”
Since that tragic evening, which Goodsell calls “the incident,” her son has steered clear of anybody connected to the crash.
“He hasn’t talked or seen or wants to have anything to do with anybody from that day,” she said. “He told me: ‘I don’t care who was in the truck or around that truck. I don’t want to have anything to do with those people.’ My son has gone on with his life.”
More troubling is the fact that inside the truck that night, Ethan Couch apparently ignored pleas from the passengers to relinquish the driver’s seat. “My son had told me that his friend wanted to see if Ethan would let him drive, and Ethan refused to let him,” Goodsell said.
If Couch hadn’t been so tone deaf that night, a more sober driver could have spared the lives lost and forever damaged. “I believe if somebody else was driving, maybe this wouldn’t have happened,” Goodsell said.
One of the seven teens discovered in Couch’s truck after the bloody crash told The Daily Beast he had just met Couch that night. He was invited to Couch’s house party by Couch’s best friend, Garrett Ballard.
Earlier that night, as soon as people arrived at the house, Couch maniacally fired a Roman candle firework at Jacob Goodsell.
“He did it out of nowhere, he told him to start running,” the teen passenger, who asked for anonymity, told The Daily Beast. “I would never do that to anyone. He was trying to get the party going by shooting at someone.”
The acquaintance said Couch acted “like a douchebag, like, ‘This is my turf, I do what I want.’ He’s definitely that guy.”
Couch allegedly also persuaded the group to go on a beer run, which involved stealing two cages from a local Wal-Mart before the crash.
“He drank alcohol like no one else,” the pal said. “I’ve seen teenagers drink alcohol, and some gag. He does it like it’s nothing.”