FORT WORTH, Texas (Reuters) - Numerous tips have been reported on the possible whereabouts of a Texas teen from a wealthy family suspected of violating a probation deal that kept him out of prison for killing four people in a drunken-driving crash, a sheriff said on Friday.
The U.S. Marshals Service has joined Texas officials in the hunt for Ethan Couch, 18, who has a warrant out for his arrest and was placed on Tarrant County’s most-wanted list.
Law enforcement was checking on reports that Couch may have left the state or even the country after going missing earlier this month, shortly after a video came out showing him at a beer-pong party, in likely violation of his probation.
A psychiatrist called in his defense at his trial two years ago said he had “affluenza” and was so spoiled he did not know the difference between right and wrong. “Affluenza” is not recognized as a diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, and Couch’s probation sparked outrage.
“We fear that he has left the country,” Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said. “He got way out ahead of this and got away before any of us knew he was missing.”
A probation violation could result in prison time for Couch, authorities said. He was sentenced to 10 years probation in a juvenile court for killing the four.
“Because of the publicity in the case, we are receiving dozens of tips every day,” Anderson said.
Sources close to the investigation said the teen’s father told law enforcement officials the passports of the youth and his mother, with whom he was living, were missing.
Due to the wealth of the Couch family, the search could take a long time, Anderson said.
“This case is unique and he is not like your average guy who jumps a $500 bond,” Anderson said. “They have lots of money, which gives them access to private planes and boats.”
The teen, who was 16 at the time of the deadly crash, had a blood-alcohol level of nearly three times the legal limit when he was speeding and lost control of his pickup truck.
The truck fatally struck the driver of a car that had broken down by the side of the road and three other people who had stopped to help the stranded motorist in June 2013.
Four other people were injured, two seriously, in the crash south of Fort Worth.
Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Leslie Adler