A manhunt is underway for a Texas teenager sentenced to probation in 2013 for killing four people in a drunken-driving wreck.
Authorities say Ethan Couch, 18, missed an appointment last week with his probation officer and the juvenile equivalent of an arrest warrant was issued for him.
He’s believed to have fled with his mother, with whom he’d been living.
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“We are only assuming that they’re together,” said Terry Grisham, Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department spokesman. “They’re both missing. But no one has placed them together outside of Tarrant County.”
Officials say they don’t know his whereabouts and have expressed concern that he may have left the country, although Sam Jordan, a spokeswoman for the Tarrant County district attorney’s office, says there’s no specific indication that he has crossed the border.
“He and his mother have the means to be able to travel to wherever they may want to travel,” Jordan said.
County investigators were looking for Couch to ask him about a video posted online a few weeks ago showing people at a party playing drinking games. One of them appears to be Couch, and if found to be drinking, his parole could be revoked and a 10-year prison sentence could be imposed.
Sheriff Dee Anderson said Friday that he believes Couch fled in the days after the video came to light. He said Couch and his mother may have left the area in late November, shortly after Couch attended a mandatory meeting with his probation officer, well before their next scheduled meeting on Dec. 10.
When he didn’t show, authorities issued an order for his arrest the next day.
The U.S. Marshals Service has issued a wanted poster promising a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to Couch’s whereabouts and capture.
‘Affluenza’ argument widely criticized
In June 2013 at age 16, Couch was driving drunk and speeding on a dark two-lane road south of Fort Worth when he crashed into a disabled SUV off to the side, killing four people. Among the injured were some of the seven minors who were in Couch’s pickup.
Couch pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury.
Because of his age, he wasn’t certified as an adult for trial and a judge sentenced him in juvenile court to 10 years’ probation and a stint in a rehabilitation center.
During the sentencing phase of his juvenile court trial, Couch’s attorneys relied on a defence expert who argued that Couch’s wealthy parents coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility – a condition the expert termed affluenza.
The condition is not recognized as a medical diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, and its invocation drew widespread criticism and ridicule.
Authorities say they’ve received hundreds of leads in their search, and have issued a $5,000 reward for information leading to Couch’s apprehension.
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