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'Affluenza teen' Ethan Couch had 'long-term' plan to flee country, sheriff says

Tarrant County's sheriff says Ethan Couch's plan to flee the country "was a long-term intention."
/ Source: TODAY

A Texas sheriff involved in the case of "affluenza teen" Ethan Couch said he's not shocked that Couch, who was captured in Mexico Monday, fled the country with his mother and violated his probation.

"It wasn’t a surprise to me at all he couldn’t follow the rules,” Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson told TODAY's Savannah Guthrie Wednesday. “He’s never had to follow rules. He doesn’t believe in the rules. I was just surprised it didn’t happen sooner."

Anderson has worked on the case since before Couch received probation after pleading guilty in 2013 to manslaughter and intoxication assault for killing four people in a drunken-driving accident.

Couch, now 18, and his mother were detained in Puerto Vallerta, Mexico, Monday evening, where they were seized on the town's boardwalk by Mexican authorities. The pair fled the country earlier this month and, according to reports, hid in the Mexican resort town by blending in with American tourists celebrating Christmas.

Reports claim authorities were tipped off from a call Couch and his mother made to order Domino’s pizza, but Anderson said that’s an “oversimplification.”

“It wasn’t as simple as a single phone call,” he said. “We had to do a lot of work to actually pinpoint their location of where they were.”

While Anderson didn’t reveal specifics behind the investigation, he did say that he believes Couch and his mother were planning a long-term disappearance, and that they held a “going-away party” before they left.

“I don’t think there was any intent for them to come back because they knew as soon as they returned to this country and were located that they would be arrested,” he said.

Besides “carefully planning their escape” and timing their move to get a “maximum head start” before authorities could look, Couch said they told some friends they were planning on leaving at a party.

“It was described to us by some people as more or less a going-away party,” he said. “A gathering basically to tell some friends goodbye and that they were heading out of the country. Again, just an example of the arrogance and the way these people don’t believe the law applies to them.”

Couch is currently in custody, but may only face a reinstatement of his parole and juvenile detention for violating parole as a juvenile.

Tarrant County District Attorney Sharon Wilson said in a press conference Tuesday that she will recommend Couch's case move to adult court, in which Couch could face up to 120 days in juvenile detention and be placed on a more restrictive adult probation.

Couch's mother, however, could see more jail time than her son with a charge of aiding and abetting a felon. She could face 10 years in jail.

"We can move him to adult court," said Wilson, "and an adult judge can instate or enforce his 10-year probated sentence that was given to him before — which means he'd be on additional eight years' probation."

Anderson said he also hopes Couch’s case moves to adult court, where the teen could face a harsher sentence.

“What we hope to happen is he will also get his case transferred to an adult court here very shortly,” he said. “And then at least he can do some jail time, and then hopefully he will be placed on a very, very intense probation.”