'Affluenza' teen grew up in wealthy but unstable home

FORT WORTH, Texas -- The Texas teenager who used an "affluenza" defence in a deadly drunken-driving wreck grew up in a wealthy yet unstable household where his parents underwent an acrimonious divorce, which included accusations that his mother was addicted to pain pills and his father was abusive.

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The divorce provides a revealing backdrop for the latest chapter in Ethan Couch's troubled life, which is back in the spotlight after he and his mother fled to Mexico while he was on probation for charges related the 2013 crash. The two were tracked down and arrested Monday in the Mexican resort city of Puerto Vallarta.

During the sentencing phase of his 2013 trial, a defence expert argued that his wealthy parents had coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility -- a condition the expert termed "affluenza." The condition is not recognized as a medical diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, and its invocation drew ridicule.

When Fred and Tonya Couch divorced in 2006, the court ordered psychological evaluations of both parents and Ethan, their only child. Fred Couch, now 50, told a social worker that their marriage had been a "mistake from the start," Johnson County court documents show.

He said that his wife, now 48, was addicted to Vicodin and had given the painkiller to their son about five times. She also kept his bed in her room and considered him to be her "protector."

Tonya Couch said the marriage ended because her husband had been verbally and physically abusive. She said there was daily name-calling, that he often grabbed her by the hair and that he once "threw her into a fireplace."

Ethan Couch said his parents had always "yelled at each other a lot," and he wished that they "wouldn't put him in the middle."

The social worker concluded that the Couches had "adultified" a then-9-year-old Ethan, allowing him to become overly involved in adult issues and decisions.

After his parents' divorce, the Couches' son lived mainly with his mother in a gated, 465-square-meter ranch home set on 2 hectares of land in rural Texas.

Tonya Couch had her nursing license revoked in 2012 for failing to disclose a reckless driving charge in 2003, according to the Texas Board of Nursing.

Fred Couch founded Cleburne Metal Works, which does large-scale metal roofing, in 1986. The company employs 40 people and has estimated annual sales of $9.59 million, according to business research company Hoover's. Ethan Couch worked there after finishing school at age 15. It was unclear whether he received a high school diploma or an equivalent certificate.

Couch was driving drunk and speeding south of Fort Worth in June 2013 when he crashed into a disabled SUV parked on the side of the road, killing four people and injuring several others.

He pleaded guilty to intoxication manslaughter and other charges. A judge sentenced him in juvenile court to 10 years' probation and a stint in a rehabilitation centre.

Authorities believe the mother and son fled in late November after a video surfaced that appears to show Couch at a party where people were drinking. He said authorities have no evidence that Couch's father was involved in the getaway.


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