FORT WORTH, TX — A juvenile court judge has gotten some people upset after she sentenced 16-year-old Ethan Couch to 10 years’ probation for the drunk driving crash that killed four people.
Back in June, Breanna Mitchell’s SUV had a flat tire so she pulled over to the side of the road. Hollie Boyles, 52, and her daughter, Shelby Boyles, 21, lived nearby and had came out to help Mitchell. Brian Jennings, 41, was driving by and also stopped to see if he could lend a hand.
Unfortunately for all of them, 16-year-old Ethan Couch was also on the road, driving drunk. He and some of his seven passengers had stolen some beer from a Walmart hours earlier and were speeding when Couch lost control of his truck, left the road and struck Breanna’s SUV.
Breanna, Hollie, Shelby and Brian were not in the road when the collision occurred, but they were all killed on impact and thrown 50 to 60 yards away. One of Couch’s passengers suffered serious injuries while another remains paralyzed and only able to communicate by blinking his eyes.
It would later be revealed that Couch had had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit, plus traces of Valium were found in his system. He would eventually plead guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury.
Prosecutors were asking that Couch spend 20 years in state lockup, stating the teen has consistently remained out of trouble in the past because of his family’s money and letting him off easy was just a continuation of that behavior and put the community at risk. Couch’s attorneys argued the teen needed rehab and had a psychologist testify that the blame for Couch’s actions falls directly on hist parents’ shoulders.
Gary Miller began evaluating Couch after his arrest and testified that Couch was a child of a contentious divorce. His parents argued often and often used Couch as pawn to get their way. You know, like most children of divorce. He went on to say that couch was spoiled by his parents and while his intellectual age was 18, his emotional age was 12.
“He never learned that sometimes you don’t get your way,” Miller said. “He had the cars and he had the money. He had freedoms that no young man would be able to handle.”
One of Couch’s attorneys added that there was no rehabilitation available to Couch if he went to prison, and that his family had agreed to pay for a lengthy stay at a rehabilitation facility that can cost more than $450,000 a year.
State District Judge Jean Boyd agreed with the defense, and to the disbelief of some of the victim’s family members, ordered Couch to receive therapy at the long-term, in-patient facility and serve 10 years probation. No jail unless he violates his probation, at which time he could be sent to prison for 10 years.
She stated that she is familiar with programs available in the Texas juvenile justice system and other teens she’d sentenced there never actually got into any available rehabilitation programs. By sending him to the facility recommended by his attorneys, she figures Couch may just get the help he needs and become a productive member of society.
One of the teen’s two attorneys praised Boyd’s decision, saying Couch could have been released from prison in two years had Boyd granted the prosecutor’s request of 20 years. “She fashioned a sentence that could have him under the thumb of the justice system for the next 10 years,” Scott Brown said.
The Tarrant County assistant district attorney said he was very disappointed with the verdict. “There can be no doubt that he will be in another courthouse one day blaming the lenient treatment he received here,” Richard Alpert said. This is a sentiment echoed by Eric Boyles, who lost both his wife and daughter in the collision.
“Money always seems to keep [the teen] out of trouble,” said Boyles. “Ultimately today, I felt that money did prevail. If [he] had been any other youth, I feel like the circumstances would have been different.”