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The Drunk Driving Saga of Ethan Couch
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Ethan Couch, ABC News

Ethan Couch, ABC News

Summary: Learn more about Ethan Couch and the latest developments in his case in this article.

Due to a recent video posted on social media, 18-year-old Ethan Couch is back in the news. As many recall, back in 2013, this young man chose to drive his red Ford F-350 at a speed of about 70 mph while drunk late one night in Burleson, Texas. He and his friends who were partying had decided to make a trip to a nearby convenience store.


Sadly, Ethan and his passengers never reached that destination. Instead, they wound up plowing into four individuals standing on the side of an “unlit blacktop [road] without shoulders,” in a town just south of Fort Worth. Killed immediately were three adults trying to help a 24-year-old young woman who was having car trouble following a tire blowout in front of a house. She died as well.

A mother and her 21-year-old daughter were in that small group who lost their lives. They had come out of their home after hearing the young girl hit the mailbox in front of their house. A local youth pastor was also killed. He had stopped his truck and walked over in hopes of helping the stranded motorist.

Chilling Descriptions of the Crash Site

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In a D Magazine article entitled, “The Worst Parents Ever,” published in May 2015, there’s a gripping description of the accident scene. We’re told that after this accident you could easily smell both gasoline vapor and burning rubber in the air. Furthermore, “pieces of mangled metal and human remains were scattered over nearly 300 feet of road.” One of the local law enforcement deputies said it all “looked more like a plane crash than a car wreck.”

ABC’s “20/20” prime time news magazine program did a lengthy segment on this Texas tragedy. The video is entitled “Drunk Driving Teen Causes Accident Involving Over 14 People.” As might be expected, in addition to the four who were killed, others were seriously injured. Watch the video below:

Bizarre Testimony by Psychologist Accepted by Judge – Lets Couch Escape Any Jail Time

Ethan Couch’s defense team arranged for psychologist Dr. G. Dick Miller to testify about this young man’s ability to distinguish between right and wrong. He also spoke about how the boy had been affected by his financially privileged background – and being raised by doting parents afraid to ever significantly discipline him.

Medical doctor and TV personality Dr. Drew Pinksy perfectly captured how most people felt about this “affluenza” testimony. He told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that, “It’s a cute, clever twist of a phrase that the psychologist should be ashamed of himself for having brought in the courtroom. And even more shameful is the judge for having fallen for that nonsense.”

Since the trial, a member of Couch’s defense team has pointed out that many juveniles are frequently excused from serving any lock-up time. Yet he is clearly forgetting that Ethan killed four people. Furthermore, basic human logic and Ethan’s past run-ins with the law should have required far more serious consequences.

Had proper punishment been assigned by Judge Jean Boyd (including incarceration for an extended time period in some type of juvenile facility – in addition to the required time in rehab and 10 years’ probation), none of us would probably be having to relive Ethan Couch’s past crimes again right now. He might have actually learned a lesson or two while confined. Instead, he appears to have recently attended a silly beer pong party where alcohol was being served, according to a video that was posted on Twitter:

Clearly, pleading guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault made little impression on this young man.

Has Ethan Couch Ever Apologized or Expressed Meaningful Remorse?

It’s widely reported that Ethan has never apologized for his deadly behavior. He may have even just assigned his deadly drunk driving to the realm of forgotten memories.

All of this remains especially hard for the survivors of Mr. Couch’s victims. Had he taken his crimes seriously enough – surely by now he would have developed enough character to apologize for his terrible behavior. If it is proven that Ethan Couch is still drinking alcohol – in violation of his ongoing probation – he is displaying the highest form of disrespect to his victims’ memories. Someone needs to teach this young man about humility and the critical value of accepting full responsibility for all of his actions – regardless of whether or not they were intentional.

The Role Played by Ethan’s Parents in His Ongoing Behavior

Michael J. Mooney, the author of D Magazine’s “The Worst Parents Ever” article (published earlier this year) clearly sums up how many feel in his article’s title. While the key focus in this case should always remain on the victims and their surviving family members and close friends who will continue suffering for many more years – this magazine article is thorough enough to actually present some compelling evidence to make a compassionate adult think twice about wholly condemning Ethan Couch alone.

According to this article, Ethan apparently was emotionally neglected and his parents may have used him to meet many of their own selfish adult needs. All of this is clearly set forth in court-ordered social worker reports written about both parents and Ethan – back at the time of the couple’s 2006 divorce. It’s clearly a portrait of a family of possible “one-percenters” who no one could ever envy.

However, we have to remember that young Couch clearly didn’t suffer in the way a large number of American children do when they’re brought up by severely abusive parents who are frequently absent due to prison terms, addictions, and severe mental health problems. Furthermore, a number of these children are subjected to serious poverty – yet many of them still develop decent character and the drive to go on and attend and graduate from college.

Where Ethan Couch’s Case Currently Stands in the Courts

At age 18, Ethan Couch is a young man. In fact, the Tarrant County Juvenile Prosecutor and Assistant District Attorney Riley Shaw has already filed to have jurisdiction of Couch’s ongoing probation (tied to his 2013 drunk driving case) moved to adult court. Once a hearing is granted on this motion, it’s likely that this change in jurisdiction will go into effect as of Ethan’s 19th birthday in April of 2016.

On December 9, 2015, during a telephone interview, Mr. Shaw did state in regards to his office that, “We are investigating” all of the circumstances involved regarding the recent beer pong video posted online. The only other bit of information he was willing to share, given the pendency of this investigation, was that “It’s reasonable” for the public to expect to learn the results of his office’s current investigation “within the next 60 days.”

So, we should all soon know whether or not there’s any convincing evidence that Ethan is violating his probationary terms by personally drinking alcohol.

What MADD Said About Ethan’s Case – and How to Teach Teens About Alcohol

Like others contacted for this story, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) also chose to avoid speculating about Ethan Couch’s probationary status in light of the now infamous “beer pong” video. However, one key MADD official did comment on the case in general – and shared some suggestions for all parents trying to teach their teens how to properly handle alcohol in their midst.

Jason Derscheid, Executive Director of MADD, North Texas, said the main point he wants to make is that the entire 2013 Ethan Couch tragedy was a “100 percent preventable problem.” He then added that MADD urges everyone planning to do any drinking to always create a plan – in advance – that addresses how various matters should be handled once the drinking begins. Had Ethan Couch and his friends named a designated driver that night back in 2013, four people might still be alive and well today.

How Can We Help All Teens Learn to Handle Alcohol More Responsibly?

Mr. Derscheid said that MADD hopes that all parents and teens will visit the nonprofit victim service organization’s website to learn more about both its Power of Parents and Power of You(th) programs. He also said that once parents start talking with their kids about how they should handle drinking – “they must be willing to maintain these conversations” so they’ll increase their kids’ chances of staying safe.

Mr. Derscheid then suggested that those who have been involved in any aspect of a drunk driving incident should seriously consider getting involved in MADD’s Victim Impact Panels program.

Ethan Couch’s Likely Future

Although we all need to keep focused on minimizing the ongoing suffering of those who lost family members and friends during the 2013 accident, some caring thoughts must also be born in mind regarding Mr. Couch himself. Apart from wanting to keep all communities safe from any further harmful acts he might commit – there should be some concern that this young man may completely fall through the cracks in the future.

Hopefully, he has at least one emotionally healthy family member who will urge him to obtain lengthy, in-depth, psychological therapy so he can fully accept responsibility for what he’s done. After all, one day he’ll need to find a conscious way to forgive himself. Apologizing to his victims’ survivors will always be an advisable first step for this young man. Otherwise, once he finishes his 10-year period of probation, Mr. Couch’s chances of becoming addicted to one substance or another remains rather high.

It might also be wise for Ethan to seek out the counsel of a local faith community since he has a long journey ahead of him to achieve any meaningful healing. In fact, one video posted online about this case features the wife of one victim. She says she hopes that maybe her husband didn’t die in vain. She then says that maybe his death will help lead Ethan Couch to finally discover what life is actually all about – and then he’ll pursue a path of spiritual growth.

Elizabeth Smith, J.D., M.A., is a freelance writer who has been writing about general business, legal, medical, and consumer topics for over twenty years. She has also served as the author and co-author of two professional legal texts.



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