U.S. News

Media spotlight will help in catching Texas 'affluenza' teen: sheriff

FORT WORTH, Texas (Reuters) - The search for a Texas teen from a wealthy family, missing after apparently breaking a probation deal that kept him out of prison for killing four people, has been aided by publicity that could lead to his arrest, a sheriff leading the probe said on Tuesday.

Ethan Couch, 18, is shown in this handout photo provided by the Tarrant County Sheriff's Department in Fort Worth, Texas, December 17, 2015. REUTERS/Tarrant County Sheriff's Dept/Handout via Reuters

Ethan Couch, 18, convicted about two years ago in juvenile court for intoxication manslaughter, is being sought as a fugitive. His mother, Tonya Couch, 48, has been declared missing and is believed to be with her son, according to the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office.

At age 16, Couch was speeding and had a blood-alcohol level of nearly three times the legal limit when he lost control of his pickup truck and fatally struck a stranded motorist on the side of the road and three Good Samaritans who had stopped to help.

At Couch’s trial, a psychologist who testified on his behalf said he was afflicted with “affluenza,” where he was so spoiled that he could not tell the difference between right and wrong. The diagnosis is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association.

“We are optimistic that we will catch them,” Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said. “They can only hide for so long before someone spots them and contacts us.”

Tips about the two have increased since the U.S. Marshal Service issued a wanted poster for the teen and put up a $5,000 reward for information leading to his arrest. Law enforcement officials also are searching for Tonya Couch’s missing truck, a black 2011 Ford F-150.

“We are making progress,” Anderson said on Tuesday. “We’re following up on a lot of tips about possible sightings.”

Anderson said it was possible that mother and son had fled the country because their passports had been reported missing by the teen’s father, who has been cooperating with authorities.

They would be identified by their passports should they try to use them to leave the country. So far, the two have not left an obvious trail for law enforcement officers, Anderson said.

Tarrant County officials issued a warrant for Ethan Couch after he missed a mandatory meeting with his probation officer nearly two weeks ago. An investigation into a possible probation violation began early in December when a video came out showing him at a beer-pong party.

Reporting by Marice Richter; Writing by Jon Herskovitz Editing by Sandra Maler