Drunk driving or driving under the influence is something that I have no tolerance for and believe the punishments need to be much stiffer for those convicted of it. My three best friends growing up were killed by a drunk driver. JJ, Mike and Roger were only 18 and 19 years old at the time a rich doctor was speeding drunk on a city street, ran a red light and hit them broadside. JJ was pronounced dead at the scene. Mike died several hours later and Roger died two days later.
The doctor was not only very wealthy but he had connections. He was charged with three counts of vehicular manslaughter, but surprisingly, his trial was before a judge with no jury. They acquitted the doctor of those charges but never gave a valid reason in court. The doctor ended up paying $150 in traffic fines for speeding and running a red light. $50 a life!
Since that time, I’ve had little to no tolerance for drunk drivers so when I heard about the next case and went researching it, I was livid and outraged.
Sixteen year old Ethan Couch went to a Wal-Mart with some friends and stole some beer. Then they partied and got drunk. Ethan climbed behind the wheel of his truck and went speeding down the street. Just 400 yards down the road, Breanna Mitchell’s SUV had broken down. Hollie Boyles and her daughter Shelby went to help her. Driving past at the time was youth pastor Brian Jennings who also stopped to help.
Ethan was so drunk that he floored his truck and raced down the road, totally oblivious to the world around him or the broken down SUV in front of him. On a road with a 40mph speed limit, Couch had reached over 70mph when he plowed his truck into the stranded SUV and four people. The crash was so horrific that Breanna Mitchell, Hollie and Shelby Boyles and Brian Jennings were killed.
Two teens riding in the back of Couch’s truck were thrown out during the collision and severely injured. One of the teens sustained brain injuries so severe that he is not able to move or talk. The other teen ended up with multiple broken bones and internal injuries.
Couch’s blood alcohol level was 0.24, three times the legal limit for an adult in Texas. He was charged with four counts of intoxication manslaughter, but tried as a juvenile. The only defense that Couch’s lawyer could come up with was that he was a victim of affluenza and that his parents were at fault for the way they raised him. His parents were very rich and he was basically raised without limits and learned early on that money would buy his way out of anything.
And the judge bought into the affluenza defense, proving that money does buy one’s way out of most things. Instead of being sentenced to 20 years in prison (which still isn’t enough for killing four people), Judge Jean Boyd sentenced Couch to 10 years PROBATION and he had to go to a detox center for his alcohol abuse. Additionally, the judge said that Ethan was not allowed to have contact with his family for a period of time since they were the enablers.
The reports indicate that Ethan’s father is planning on paying the $500,000 to have his son committed to a California rehab center for the rich and famous.
Eric Boyles, husband to Hollie and father to Shelby, both killed by Couch was stunned by the verdict and told the media:
“Let’s face it. … There needs to be some justice here.”
“For 25 weeks, I’ve been going through a healing process. And so when the verdict came out, I mean, my immediate reaction is — I’m back to week 1. We have accomplished nothing here. My healing process is out the window.”
“There are absolutely no consequences for what occurred that day. The primary message has to absolutely be that money and privilege can’t buy justice in this country.”
But it did keep 16 year old Ethan from paying the penalty for his crime. His defense attorney said that being separated from his family for a few years is punishment enough, but the families of Ethan’s victims will be separated from their loved ones for the rest of their lives. Affluenza or not, Couch should be in prison and for a lot longer than 10-20 years. Many years ago, parents of minors were held legally responsible for their children’s actions. This is one case where that should have been done as the parents are partially to blame for the way they failed to raise and discipline their son. However, regardless of how he was raised, Ethan knew that it was wrong to steal the beer and that it was illegal for him drink and it was illegal for him drive under the influence, but he chose to do those things so he should be forced to accept the real penalty for his decisions and actions.
The message sent out by Judge Boyd is that money still protects the wealthy and they can continue on with their reckless lifestyles without regard to the circumstances of their actions. Ten years probation is a far cry from 10 years in prison. I’ve advocated that when a person drinks knowing they will be driving a vehicle afterward that it amounts to premeditation. If their drunken state causes them to injury someone or as in this case kill someone, then that becomes premeditated murder (first degree murder) which in some states could result in the death penalty. If some of these irresponsible people who drink and drive get the needle or electric chair, then perhaps some people will think twice before drinking and driving and lives will be saved.
I know how the victims’ families feel. My three friends were almost closer to me than my own family. When I heard the judge let that doctor walk away a free man, I went ballistic. I had already been hit with a $25 contempt of court fine during the trial so I told the judge to slap another $25 fine on me and that my $50 would pay for the doctor’s life since that was all he paid for the lives of my friends. The judge obliged but warned me about any retaliation. Trust me, I wanted to so bad but I didn’t. Someone else did, but I’ve never been sure who it was, but I do know that the doctor fled to California rather quickly.
I know money can’t buy back the dead, but I hope that the families of the victims sue Couch and his parents for every penny they have and then Ethan won’t have to worry about affluenza again. It would also serve as a notice to other wealthy people that they could lose everything if they raise their children to be like Ethan.