FORT WORTH/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A Texas teenager, scorned for his “affluenza” defense in a deadly car crash, and his mother won a delay in extradition from Mexico on Wednesday where they fled as U.S. authorities investigated whether he had violated a probation deal that kept him out of prison.
Ethan Couch, 18, and his mother, 48-year-old Tonya Couch, were captured in the Mexican Pacific Coast city of Puerto Vallarta on Monday and had been due to be flown back to Houston accompanied by U.S. Marshals.
Ricardo Vera, a Mexican migration official in Jalisco state, said the pair had filed an injunction to delay their extradition and they would not be leaving on Wednesday. He said a judge in Mexico would have up to 72 hours to consider the injunction, and they could still be deported within two weeks depending on developments.
In Texas, Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said he was not surprised by the delay.
“They (the Couches) have done everything that they can so far to avoid being accountable, or avoid being brought to justice. Any roadblock they can put in the way, any hurdle, I fully expect that,” Anderson said in an interview.
“Most likely it (the injunction) will result in a little delay, which is not as good as we hoped ... We are patient, we will be here when they get here,” he said.
During Ethan Couch’s trial in juvenile court over a 2013 drunk driving crash that killed four people, a psychologist testified on his behalf that he was afflicted with “affluenza,” and that he was so spoiled by his wealth that he could not tell the difference between right and wrong.
The diagnosis is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and was has been widely ridiculed.
Couch was convicted on four counts of intoxication manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years of drink and drug-free probation, which critics saw as leniency because of his family’s wealth. His flight to Mexico rekindled anger over that sentence.
A U.S. Marshals Service spokeswoman Laura Vega said the Couches could not be deported until legal matters had been resolved, adding the service did not know when that might be.
Couch and his mother fled the United States earlier this month after a video surfaced online apparently showing Ethan Couch at a party where beer was being consumed. Authorities then launched a probe into a possible parole violation, law enforcement officials said.
The two were tracked down and arrested in Puerto Vallarta. Mexican authorities said they had been working with the U.S. Marshals Service since Dec. 24 to locate them.
Anderson said that when the pair does arrive back in the United States, Couch would appear at a detention hearing. The judge could keep him in a juvenile detention facility or send him to an adult jail, he said.
Authorities have issued a warrant for his mother’s arrest for hindering apprehension, the sheriff said, adding that if convicted she could face two to 10 years in prison.
Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said on Tuesday that she expected the judge to hold Couch after his hearing. County prosecutors have been working for months to move his case into the adult system.
In the car crash, Couch, then 16, 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 people who had stopped to help.
During their last days in Puerto Vallarta, Couch and his mother lived in a modest apartment, kept a low profile and at least once used a false name as they tried to stay under the radar, local people and neighbors said.
Asked about U.S. media reports that a pizza order in Puerto Vallarta from a cellphone had led to the arrests, Anderson said it was more than a single incident.
“It was really good old-fashioned police work that led to this,” he said.
Additional reporting by Anahi Rama and Veronica Gomez in Mexico City, Anna Driver in Houston and Jon Herskovitz in Austin; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Frances Kerry, Toni Reinhold