Breaking News Emails
Police chasing the Texas teenager who used an "affluenza" defense to avoid jail for a deadly drunken-driving crash got a present on Christmas Eve — a tip to his whereabouts in the Mexican resort city of Puerto Vallarta.
While it has been widely reported that 18-year-old Ethan Couch's call to a Domino's Pizza led police to the hideout he was sharing with his mother Tonya, Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson told TODAY's Savannah Guthrie on Wednesday it wasn't that cut and dried.
"That's a very oversimplification of what happened," he said. "We had a lot of old-fashioned police work going on ... There wasn't one phone call that actually turned the case."
But as Couch and his mom lay low in a grubby apartment building while the rest of Puerto Vallarta was celebrating the holiday, police were closing in.
"On Christmas Eve (investigators) had gotten information on the part of Puerto Vallarta they thought they were in," the sheriff said.
And on Monday, Mexican police armed with an address provided by the FBI and U.S. Marshals pounced and arrested mother and son — ending their brief life on the lam.
"I believe that they were planning a long-term disappearance," Anderson said. "I don't think there was any intent for them to come back."
Anderson is among the many who were outraged two years ago when Couch was sentenced in juvenile court to 10 years probation for killing four people and injuring nine others in a drunken crash. He said he was not shocked when Couch fled to Mexico earlier this month after video which appeared to show him drinking and violating the rules of his probation was posted online.
"It wasn't a surprise to me at all he couldn't follow the rules," Anderson said. "He's never had to follow rules. He doesn't believe in the rules. I was just surprised it didn't happen sooner."
The Couches will be ringing in the new year at a detention center in Guadalajara.
Their lawyers Wednesday obtained what is known in Mexico as an "amparo" to avoid extradition and now it could be weeks before they are returned to Texas to face justice, said Richard Hunter, Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Texas.
"I've never seen one of these happen in three days," Hunter said. "In my experience, it's two weeks at a minimum."
The initial plan was to fly the pair — accompanied by four Mexican immigration agents — to Houston and then drive them to Fort Worth. But that plan is now on hold, Hunter said.
"We don't know where they are coming, we don't know when they are coming," he said.
Couch already has a Jan. 19 date in juvenile court at which time prosecutors will ask that his case be transferred to adult court. If the judge denies that, Couch will be jailed in a juvenile facility for four months until April 11 when he turns 19.
Tonya Couch, 48, faces charges of hindering apprehension.
Couch was convicted of four counts of intoxication manslaughter after he lost control of his car and plowed into a group of pedestrians on June 15, 2013 in Burleson, Texas. He was 16 and had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit.
On the stand, Couch admitted he was driving drunk. But he escaped prison after his lawyers put a psychologist on the stand who testified the wealthy teen was afflicted with "affluenza," which made him unable to distinguish right from wrong.
They argued Couch needed rehab not prison and Judge Jean Boyd agreed, sparking nationwide outrage.
Affluenza is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as an official diagnosis.