FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The mother of a Texas teenager who used an “affluenza” defense for a deadly wreck could soon leave jail after a judge on Monday sharply reduced her bond.
Tonya Couch’s bond is now $75,000 instead of $1 million. She is charged with hindering the apprehension of a felon after she and her son, Ethan Couch, were caught in a Mexican resort city. Ethan, 18, killed four people in a 2013 crash and was facing allegations that he violated his probation.
Authorities say Tonya Couch took $30,000 and fled with Ethan to Mexico out of fear that her son would face prison for violating his probation. The two were caught in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on Dec. 28. Tonya Couch was brought back to Texas last week, while Ethan Couch remains in a Mexico City detention facility, where he is contesting his extradition.
If Tonya Couch makes bail, she will be required to wear an electronic ankle monitor and remain at home except for appointments with her doctor and lawyer.
State District Judge Wayne Salvant said he understood prosecutors’ concerns that Couch might flee again, but that the charge against her, while a third-degree felony, wasn’t serious enough to merit a $1 million bond.
One of her attorneys, Stephanie Patten, said afterward that she wasn’t sure if Tonya Couch would immediately post bond.
Ethan Couch was 16 and driving at three times the legal limit for adult drivers when he rammed a pickup truck into a crowd of people trying to help stranded motorists on the side of a North Texas road. Four people were killed in the June 2013 wreck.
A juvenile court judge gave the teen 10 years’ probation, outraging prosecutors who had called for him to face detention time. The case drew widespread derision after an expert called by Ethan Couch’s lawyers argued he had been coddled into a sense of irresponsibility by his wealthy parents, a condition the expert called “affluenza.”
Despite all of the previous testimony about the teen’s wealthy upbringing, his mother’s attorneys have argued that she had few assets to her own name and couldn’t pay the cost of a $1 million bond.
Another of Tonya Couch’s sons, Steven McWilliams, testified Monday that the balance on a bank account belonging to her read “-$99 billion.”
Tonya Couch is separated from Fred Couch, Ethan’s father, who owns a suburban Fort Worth business that does large-scale metal roofing. According to an arrest warrant, Tonya Couch is accused of telling Fred Couch that he would never see her or Ethan again before fleeing.
Tarrant County criminal investigator Darran Gabbert testified Monday that Tonya and Ethan Couch had a “planning meeting” with several other people before leaving for Mexico. One person at that meeting was a teen who was in Ethan Couch’s truck at the time of the crash, Gabbert testified.
The mother and son were found a few weeks after disappearing. Authorities say they were able to track them after the two ordered a pizza.