‘Affluenza’ teen’s family won’t pay full rehab fee


FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The 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. The facility That amount would cover less than two days of treatment, which costs $715 a day, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported (http://bit.ly/1qoRLts ).

Couch’s case drew national attention due in large part to his defense’s argument that his wealthy parents had coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility — a condition that a defense expert called “affluenza.”

Couch, 17, killed four people last year when his vehicle rammed into a crowd of people trying to help the driver of a disabled vehicle south of Fort Worth. Investigators said he was driving his family company’s pickup truck while drunk and with traces of Valium in his system.

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, with most of them reaching confidential settlements.

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.

A message from The Associated Press seeking comment from Spoonts on the facility’s payment policy was not immediately returned Friday.

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 after the hearing that 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, the father of a child who was injured in the wreck, declined to comment after the hearing 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. That’s not my call to make.”

McConnell’s family is suing the Couches. He said they will not accept a settlement and instead want a jury trial.

___

Information from: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, http://www.star-telegram.com




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Parents of Ethan Couch to pay fraction of rehab bill


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BURLESON — A judge has ordered the parents of Ethan Couch to pay less than the actual cost of their son’s treatment in a state-run rehabilitation hospital.

Couch’s parents will have to pay just over $1,100 per month. A placement officer said the actual cost of Vernon State Hospital is $715 per day. She added that the hospital requires families to pay on a sliding scale. 

Ethan Couch, 16, was driving drunk in June 2013 when he plowed into a group of people helping a stranded motorist. Four people were killed.

In December he was sentenced to 10 years of probation and sent to Vernon for an undetermined amount of time.

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‘Affluenza’ drunk driving victim seeks trial to settle civil lawsuit


BURLESON — The McConnell family made one thing clear Wednesday: they want a jury trial to reach a verdict in their civil lawsuit against Ethan Couch and his parents.

Couch was driving drunk last June when he plowed into a group of people off Burleson-Retta Road trying to help a stranded motorist.

Four people were killed.

In December, a juvenile judge ruled that Couch — who was 16 at the time of the fatal crash — would only receive ten years of probation and rehabilitation as punishment.

Part of his defense strategy included testimony from a psychologist who claimed Couch suffered from too much wealth and not enough consequences, which helped create an atmosphere of “affluenza.”

Families of the victims were outraged.

At least five of the families recently settled with the parents of Ethan Couch and the family business.

But the case involving 13-year-old Lucas McConnell will move forward.

In a heartfelt plea Wednesday afternoon, the young teenager spoke of his close relationship with Brian Jennings, a youth pastor who was killed in the accident. McConnell was in Jennings’ car when Couch slammed into the group.

“I know everyone says everything happens for a reason, but I don’t know the reason here,” he said.

The youngster was taken to Cook Children’s Medical Center after the accident, where he had shattered glass removed from his head.

His father Kevin said even though his son is alive, he feels the Couch family hasn’t taken adequate responsibility for what happened to his son, the other injured kids, or the families of the four who died.

The McConnell’s and Jennings’ families had known each other for years.

“Brian was there for the Lucas’ birth, as I was for the birth of his children.  We were in each other’s weddings,” said Kevin McConnell.

Attorneys for the McConnell’s say they expect depositions to begin next month. They will seek a trail date soon after, although it’s likely that process could drag out for months.

Couch is spending an undetermined amount of time at an undisclosed rehab facility in Texas.

E-mail tunger@wfaa.com




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‘Affluenza’ drunk driving victim refuses to settle civil lawsuit


BURLESON — The McConnell family made one thing clear Wednesday: they want a jury trial to reach a verdict in their civil lawsuit against Ethan Couch and his parents.

Couch was driving drunk last June when he plowed into a group of people off Burleson-Retta Road trying to help a stranded motorist.

Four people were killed.

In December, a juvenile judge ruled that Couch — who was 16 at the time of the fatal crash — would only receive ten years of probation and rehabilitation as punishment.

Families of the victims were outraged.

At least five of the families recently settled with the parents of Ethan Couch and the family business.

But the case involving 13-year-old Lucas McConnell will move forward.

In a heartfelt plea Wednesday afternoon, the young teenager spoke of his close relationship with Brian Jennings, a youth pastor who was killed in the accident. McConnell was in Jennings’ car when Couch slammed into the group.

“I know everyone says everything happens for a reason, but I don’t know the reason here,” he said.

The youngster was taken to Cook Children’s Medical Center after the accident, where he had shattered glass removed from his head.

His father said even though his son is alive, he feels the Couch family hasn’t taken adequate responsibility for what happened to his son, the other injured kids, or the families of the four who died.

Attorneys for the McConnells say they expect depositions to begin next month. They will seek a trail date soon after, although it’s likely that process could drag out for months.

Couch is spending an undetermined amount of time at an undisclosed rehab facility in Texas.

E-mail tunger@wfaa.com




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‘Affluenza’ drunk driving victim refuses to settle civil lawsuit


BURLESON — The McConnell family made one thing clear Wednesday: they want a jury trial to reach a verdict in their civil lawsuit against Ethan Couch and his parents.

Couch was driving drunk last June when he plowed into a group of people off Burleson-Retta Road trying to help a stranded motorist.

Four people were killed.

In December, a juvenile judge ruled that Couch — who was 16 at the time of the fatal crash — would only receive ten years of probation and rehabilitation as punishment.

Families of the victims were outraged.

At least five of the families recently settled with the parents of Ethan Couch and the family business.

But the case involving 13-year-old Lucas McConnell will move forward.

In a heartfelt plea Wednesday afternoon, the young teenager spoke of his close relationship with Brian Jennings, a youth pastor who was killed in the accident. McConnell was in Jennings’ car when Couch slammed into the group.

“I know everyone says everything happens for a reason, but I don’t know the reason here,” he said.

The youngster was taken to Cook Children’s Medical Center after the accident, where he had shattered glass removed from his head.

His father said even though his son is alive, he feels the Couch family hasn’t taken adequate responsibility for what happened to his son, the other injured kids, or the families of the four who died.

Attorneys for the McConnells say they expect depositions to begin next month. They will seek a trail date soon after, although it’s likely that process could drag out for months.

Couch is spending an undetermined amount of time at an undisclosed rehab facility in Texas.

E-mail tunger@wfaa.com




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‘Affluenza’ drunk driving victim refuses to settle civil lawsuit


BURLESON — The McConnell family made one thing clear Wednesday: they want a jury trial to reach a verdict in their civil lawsuit against Ethan Couch and his parents.

Couch was driving drunk last June when he plowed into a group of people off Burleson-Retta Road trying to help a stranded motorist.

Four people were killed.

In December, a juvenile judge ruled that Couch — who was 16 at the time of the fatal crash — would only receive ten years of probation and rehabilitation as punishment.

Families of the victims were outraged.

At least five of the families recently settled with the parents of Ethan Couch and the family business.

But the case involving 13-year-old Lucas McConnell will move forward.

In a heartfelt plea Wednesday afternoon, the young teenager spoke of his close relationship with Brian Jennings, a youth pastor who was killed in the accident. McConnell was in Jennings’ car when Couch slammed into the group.

“I know everyone says everything happens for a reason, but I don’t know the reason here,” he said.

The youngster was taken to Cook Children’s Medical Center after the accident, where he had shattered glass removed from his head.

His father said even though his son is alive, he feels the Couch family hasn’t taken adequate responsibility for what happened to his son, the other injured kids, or the families of the four who died.

Attorneys for the McConnells say they expect depositions to begin next month. They will seek a trail date soon after, although it’s likely that process could drag out for months.

Couch is spending an undetermined amount of time at an undisclosed rehab facility in Texas.

E-mail tunger@wfaa.com




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‘Affluenza’ drunk driving victim refuses to settle civil lawsuit


BURLESON — The McConnell family made one thing clear Wednesday: they want a jury trial to reach a verdict in their civil lawsuit against Ethan Couch and his parents.

Couch was driving drunk last June when he plowed into a group of people off Burleson-Retta Road trying to help a stranded motorist.

Four people were killed.

In December, a juvenile judge ruled that Couch — who was 16 at the time of the fatal crash — would only receive ten years of probation and rehabilitation as punishment.

Families of the victims were outraged.

At least five of the families recently settled with the parents of Ethan Couch and the family business.

But the case involving 13-year-old Lucas McConnell will move forward.

In a heartfelt plea Wednesday afternoon, the young teenager spoke of his close relationship with Brian Jennings, a youth pastor who was killed in the accident. McConnell was in Jennings’ car when Couch slammed into the group.

“I know everyone says everything happens for a reason, but I don’t know the reason here,” he said.

The youngster was taken to Cook Children’s Medical Center after the accident, where he had shattered glass removed from his head.

His father said even though his son is alive, he feels the Couch family hasn’t taken adequate responsibility for what happened to his son, the other injured kids, or the families of the four who died.

Attorneys for the McConnells say they expect depositions to begin next month. They will seek a trail date soon after, although it’s likely that process could drag out for months.

Couch is spending an undetermined amount of time at an undisclosed rehab facility in Texas.

E-mail tunger@wfaa.com




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North Texas media file plea for access to juvenile court proceedings


Six major media outlets in Dallas-Fort Worth joined together Wednesday to file a plea in intervention in State Judge Jean Boyd’s Tarrant County juvenile court to ask that any hearings regarding Ethan Couch be held in open court, and that they be given a chance to be heard if the judge considers any motions to close a hearing to the public or makes a decision to do that on her own.

Boyd made national news recently for sentencing Couch, 16, to 10 years’ probation and therapy for driving drunk and causing a crash that left four people dead.

After the uproar, in another murder trial involving a teenager, the judge barred everyone not directly connected with the case from her courtroom on two different occasions.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Dallas Morning News, KDFW/Channel 4, KXAS/Channel 5, WFAA/Channel 8 and KTVT/Channel 11 jointly filed a motion in Boyd’s court requesting that if the judge contemplates closing future hearings regarding the Couch case they be given reasonable notice of any closure motion so their arguments to keep the hearing open can be heard.

Boyd gave no reason when she closed the court in the subsequent murder trial hearing, so the plea in intervention also requested the court “decline any closure motion absent a showing of good cause articulated along with findings specific enough that a reviewing court can determine whether the closure order was properly entered.”

According to the Texas Family Code, if a juvenile appearing in court is under 14 at the time of the proceeding, the judge has to close the hearing unless it is determined that the interests of the child and the public would be better served by allowing an open hearing. If the defendant is older, as in the Couch case, the law states that a juvenile court hearing should be open to the public “unless the court, for good cause shown, determines that the public should be excluded.”




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Sentences vary for drunken teens in fatal wrecks


FORT WORTH (AP) — Nearly a decade before giving a 16-year-old boy probation for a drunken crash that killed four people, the same Texas judge sentenced a teen in a similar case to 20 years.

Prosecutors continue looking for a way to get a stiffer sentence for Ethan Couch after state District Judge Jean Boyd sentenced him to 10 years’ probation for the June wreck in North Texas. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Boyd handed down the 20-year term to another teenage boy in a 2004 drunken driving case.

The confidentiality of juvenile cases makes them difficult to compare. Huyen Pham, a criminal law professor at Texas A&M Law School, says each case is decided on its own merit. Factors could include whether the defendant shows remorse or has substance abuse problems.

But the similarity between Couch’s case and that of 16-year-old Eric Bradlee Miller could fuel critics who say Couch received special treatment because of his family’s wealth.

On Feb. 13, 2004, Miller left home with $10 and told his grandfather he was going to rent a movie — but instead went to buy a bottle of vodka and hopped into a pickup truck that someone had left running outside a convenience store. Miller later crashed into a 19-year-old motorist, killing him.

Miller, whose father was not in his life and whose mother was addicted to drugs, lived with his grandfather. The fact that Miller had already committed a felony by stealing the truck he was driving weighed against him in the case. He went to trial as a juvenile with a court-appointed attorney and lost.

“The court is aware you had a sad childhood, but you are fortunate to have a grandfather who is so committed and loves you,” Boyd said during the sentencing. “. I hope you will take advantage of the services (offered by the Texas Youth Commission) and turn your life around.”

And with that, Boyd gave Miller a 20-year term. He was paroled from a Texas Youth Commission facility in November 2008.

Miller got into trouble again in 2011, this time for running from police. He was sentenced to prison and won’t be up for parole again until 2017.

In Couch’s case, he had been drinking with friends on June 15 and had seven of them in his pickup that night when he lost control of his vehicle and plowed into a group of people helping a stranded motorist. Four people were killed and two teens riding in the back of Couch’s truck were critically injured.

Couch, like Miller, was not certified as an adult. But he admitted responsibility for four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury.

“Ethan, you are responsible for what you did, not your parents,” Boyd told the teen on Dec. 10 before explaining her decision. “The court is familiar with the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (formerly the Texas Youth Commission) and has sent numerous teens to programs there, and sometimes they don’t even get into the program we designated for them.”

Couch got probation. Prosecutors had asked for 20 years in detention.

His parents offered to pay $450,000 per year for him to attend a private rehabilitation center in California.




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DA seeks jail time for Ethan Couch; more details arise in teen’s background


FORT WORTH — More information has arisen in the background of 16-year-old Ethan Couch, who was given a controversial probation sentence in a drunken driving crash that killed four in June.

Dating back to 1989, Fred Couch, Ethan’s father, shows up 23 times in Johnson County police records. Included in the records are charges of criminal mischief, theft by check and assault. The cases were dismissed.

Tonya Couch, divorced from Ethan’s father in 2007, was charged with reckless driving in 2003.

Tuesday, the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office released a statement in which they revealed they are working to put the teen behind bars on two intoxication assault cases from the deadly June crash.

A judge ordered Couch to 10 years probation and a year’s worth of in-house treatment at a California rehabilitation center after his attorneys argued his parents replaced discipline with money during his trial. In early December, the teen admitted fault in the deadly crash, but didn’t plead guilty.

“During his recent trial, the 16-year-old admitted his guilt in four cases of intoxication manslaughter and two cases of intoxication assault,” read a statement from District Attorney Joe Shannon. “There has been no verdict formally entered in the two intoxication assault cases. Every case deserves a verdict. The District Attorney’s Office is asking the court to incarcerate the teen on the two intoxication assault cases.”

Couch had access to a 4,000-square foot house on Burleson Retta Road. The home, where he often stayed alone, is listed in Tarrant County property records in his mother’s name. The house is virtually unfurnished, but was available for him to party, unsupervised.

The accident took place less than a half mile from his home. Couch had three times the legal limit of alcohol in his blood, as well as Valium.

Tammy Overton, who lives a few doors away from Couch’s house, said she was surprised that a 16 year old lived alone in the large house. But, her main concern over the case still lies in the fact that Couch received probation instead of jail time. Overton is a professional truck driver who knows the punishment she would face if she was behind the wheel during a deadly drunken driving crash.

“I would lose my whole livelihood,” she said. “I would have the rest of my life taken away from me because I would be in jail. But, there were four people that lost their lives in that accident. There were four people who lost their lives and they don’t gt their lives back.”

Email bharris@wfaa.com




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