FORT WORTH, Texas — The wealthy family of a Texas teenager sentenced to probation after killing four people in a drunken-driving wreck will pay for just a fraction of his court-ordered treatment, a court official testified Friday.
Ethan Couch’s parents will be charged $1,170 a month for his treatment at the North Texas State Hospital in rural Vernon. That amount would cover less than two days of treatment, which costs $715 a day, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
Couch’s case drew national attention due in large part to his defense attorney’s argument that his wealthy parents had coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility, a condition a defense expert called “affluenza.”
Couch, who turned 17 on Friday, killed four people last year when the pickup he was driving rammed into a crowd of people trying to help the driver of a disabled vehicle south of Fort Worth. Investigators said he had seven passengers in his family’s company Ford F-350, was speeding and had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit when he slammed into the four who died. He also had traces of Valium in his system.
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Couch admitted to causing the wreck and received 10 years’ probation from State District Judge Jean Boyd, rather than prison time, as prosecutors and Couch’s victims wanted. Several of his victims have since sued the Couch family.
Debbie Spoonts, placement supervisor for Tarrant County Juvenile Services, said the facility decided what Fred and Tonya Couch would pay based on a sliding scale.
The teen’s family previously had offered to pay for Couch to go to a $450,000-a-year rehabilitation center near Newport Beach, Calif. Boyd rejected that request.
Ethan Couch’s attorney, Reagan Wynn, and Fred and Tonya Couch did not speak to the media after the hearing. Lance Evans, the attorney for Couch’s parents, said the family “respects the decision of the facility and of the court, and will honor the payment system that the court has put in place.”
Kevin McConnell, whose 13-year-old son was seriously injured in the wreck, declined to comment on whether the amount the Couches will pay is fair. “That’s not my call,” McConnell said. “We have a criminal-justice system and a legal system.”
McConnell’s family is suing the Couches. He said he will not accept a settlement and instead wants a jury trial.
Six civil lawsuits against Couch, his parents and their company, Cleburne Metal Works, all are close to being settled with the exception of the McConnell family suit.
Material from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram is included in this report.