'Affluenza' teen's mom took $30,000 before flight, according to warrant

Before "affluenza" teen fugitive Ethan Couch and his mother fled to Mexico, Tonya Couch withdrew $30,000 from a bank account and told her ex-husband he'd never see them again, according to her arrest warrant.

Rodger Mallison/Star-Telegram/Pool/AP
Tonya Couch appears in court in Fort Worth, Texas, Friday, Jan. 8, 2016. The mother of Ethan Couch, who used an "affluenza" defense after killing people in a drunken-driving wreck, appeared in court on a charge of hindering the apprehension of a felon.

Weeks before "affluenza" teen fugitive Ethan Couch was arrested in Mexico with a cheap disguise of dyed hair and beard, his mother had pulled $30,000 from a bank account and told his father he'd never see them again, according to her arrest warrant.

Just how far the mother and son planned to get with the $30,000 and the pickup truck they used to drive across the border was unclear.

When arrested, the pair had made it about 1,200 miles to the Pacific coast resort town of Puerto Vallarta, where a pizza delivery order led authorities to their apartment.

Details of the cash withdrawal and the warning were released Friday, when a Tarrant County judge set a $1 million bond for Tonya Couch on a charge of hindering apprehension of a felon.

Her son remains in custody in Mexico after winning a legal delay of his deportation back to Texas.

Ethan Couch's case drew national attention and derision when he sentenced to 10 years' probation for a 2013 drunken driving wreck that killed four people and injured several others, including passengers in his pickup truck.

A defense witness argued that Couch had been coddled by his wealthy parents, a condition the expert called "affluenza." The condition is not recognized as a medical diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, and its invocation drew ridicule.

The timing of Couch’s capture also started to raise similar questions about equal justice under the law, The Monitor’s Patrik Jonsson reported in December:

The manhunt for Couch concluded on the same day that a grand jury in Cleveland declined to bring charges against two police officers who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014. The boy had been playing with a pellet gun in a park when he was fatally shot.

“You can’t help but be struck by the juxtaposition of the Tamir Rice grand jury decision and [the Couch case],” says Daniel Filler, a law professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia. “What we see is how apparently neutral rules are always applied case by case, whether it’s parole officers or judges or police officers, based on cultural factors.”

Law enforcement officials say Tonya, 48, and Ethan, 18, fled to Mexico after a video surfaced that appeared to show the teen at a party drinking alcohol. If he was also drinking, it would violate his probation and could lead to jail time.

Law enforcement officials believe the mother and son had a going away party shortly before driving across the border in her pickup truck, making their way to Puerto Vallarta. They were first tracked to a resort condominium after ordering pizza. They had moved on by the time authorities arrived, but a witness directed police to an apartment in Puerto Vallarta's old town.

When they were arrested, authorities said Ethan Couch appeared to have tried to disguise himself by dying his blond hair black and his beard brown.

Telephone and email messages left with the Tarrant County sheriff's office and Tonya Couch attorney Stephanie Patten were not immediately returned Saturday.

According to the arrest warrant affidavit, Ethan Couch was "scared" after the video surfaced and did not respond to a Dec. 3 call from his probation officer to report for a drug test. He also did not appear for a scheduled meeting with the officer on Dec. 10.

A search warrant of bank and phone records found Tonya Couch had withdrawn $30,000 from a personal account and there was no other activity after Dec. 3. That day she also called her former husband Fred Couch to say he would never see them again.

Phone numbers used by the mother and son were no longer active after that date, according to the warrant.

Fred and Tonya Couch divorced in 2006. Authorities have previously said they had no evidence Fred Couch, who owns a North Texas sheet metal factory, was involved in helping Tonya and Ethan Couch flee.

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