'Affluenza' teen's deportation to U.S. imminent: lawyer

TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) - The wealthy Texas youth known as the “affluenza” teen after he killed four people in a drunk driving incident in 2013 should be deported to the United States very soon after dropping a legal challenge in Mexico, his lawyer said on Tuesday.

Ethan Couch, 18, and his mother, Tonya, were arrested in Mexico last month following a more than two-week-long manhunt. His mother was deported to the United States last month.

Couch’s return is “imminent” now that he has dropped the appeal, said Fernando Benitez, his lawyer in Mexico.

“Basically, it was just Mr Couch’s decision, he wants to go back to his home state and face whatever legal consequences result from whatever actions took place over the past few months,” he said in the border city of Tijuana.

“It could be a matter of one day, two days, three days,” he added, saying Mexican authorities still had to make the necessary transport arrangements.

Mexico has not yet announced a date for his deportation.

Couch was sentenced to 10 years of drug-and-alcohol-free probation for intoxication manslaughter, a punishment condemned by critics as privilege rewarded with leniency. He now faces the prospect of U.S. charges for violating his probation.

During the trial, a psychologist sparked outrage by saying in his defense that Couch was so wealthy and spoiled he could not tell the difference between right and wrong - hence, he was suffering from “affluenza.”

Tarrant County, Texas, prosecutors say Couch is responsible for his own absence by fleeing to Mexico.

His mother was returned to Texas and faces a third-degree felony charge for helping her son to flee. If convicted, she could receive a 10-year prison sentence.

Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said he had not yet been notified when Couch would return. U.S. marshals are in Mexico waiting to bring him back, he added. Upon arrival, Couch will be placed in juvenile detention, Anderson said.

If Couch is found to have violated his probation, he could be held in adult detention for about four months.

He faces a detention hearing in Fort Worth on Feb. 19 to determine if his case will be transferred to the adult system. Tarrant County prosecutors are looking into whether he could face additional charges.

Couch has been being held in a migrants’ detention center in Mexico City, and though he would have liked a more comfortable place, he “never complained”, his lawyer said.

“The last time I saw him, he felt very optimistic about returning back home,” Benitez said.

With reporting by Anahi Rama and Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City, Marice Richter and Jon Herskovitz in Texas; Writing by Simon Gardner; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Clarence Fernandez