The “Affluenza” Kid

If you’ve read or heard about the “affluenza” kid, you’re probably angry.

affluenza17n-7-webThe kid’s name is Ethan Couch.  When he was 16, he went driving while drunk and struck and killed four pedestrians near Fort Worth, Texas.  Prosecutors wanted him to spend 20 years in prison.  Instead, his case was heard in juvenile court, where an expert testified and Couch’s attorney argued that Couch suffered from “affluenza” — the purported inability to tell right from wrong because he’d been spoiled by wealthy parents who never punished him for misbehaving.  (“Affluenza” is not a psychological condition recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, although psychologists have no doubt that chronic spoiling of kids influences their behavior.)

To the outrage of the local community and the relatives of those killed in the drunk driving accident, the juvenile court judge did not sentence Couch to any jail time.  Instead, he got 10 years probation and had to do a stint at a rehab facility.  The lack of substantial consequences caused some people to argue about the injustice of our justice system — where the rich, who can hire the best lawyers and experts, can perversely argue that their own wealth can render their kids not culpable when they commit heinous crimes and kill multiple people.

But the “affluenza kid” did it again.  Ethan Couch allegedly drank alcohol at a party, in violation of his probation, and was being investigated by authorities.  Rather than face the consequences, Couch and his mom, Tonya Couch, fled to Mexico, where Couch died his hair and they hung out at the resort town of Puerto Vallarta.  But — in a nice little “affluenza” touch — authorities say that before they skipped town they had a going-away party for Couch and his friends.

Now Couch and his Mom have been caught, thanks in part to information provided by friends of the family, so we get to see some dead-eyed perp pictures of Couch and his dyed chin whiskers.  Couch’s Dad, who runs a successful business, apparently was one of the people who cooperated with authorities and is not suspected of being involved in his wife and kid’s decision to flee the U.S.

Unfortunately, Ethan Couch probably isn’t going to deal with much in the way of consequences for this misconduct, either.  Because Couch is still subject to the juvenile court system, and will be until he turns 19 in April, prosecutors say he is likely to face no more than 120 days in detention — after which he would be released, subject to another period of probation.   Tonya Couch, on the other hand, is going to be charged with hindering an arrest, which carries a sentence of two to 10 years.

It’s an infuriating and sordid story of a spoiled brat who apparently suffers no guilt from killing four people, was too stupid to recognize that he was lucky enough to get a second chance and blew it, and likely still won’t face punishment that is commensurate with his crime, and an enabling mother who probably spoiled the kid in the first place.

I don’t think it’s likely that Ethan Couch will become a productive member of society, and I hope he one day will be held accountable for his crimes.  As for his mother — who is supposed to be the adult in this situation — I hope they throw the book at her and get the maximum sentence, because somebody needs to actually feel the long arm of the law for making authorities engage in an international manhunt.  Who knows?  If Ethan Couch and his “affluenza” are incapable of distinguishing right from wrong, maybe he’ll at least feel some remorse for sending Mommy Dearest to the Big House.

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Vacation Time: Puerto Vallerta

In 2005, Kish and the boys and I spent a week or so, over the Christmas/New Year’s break, at one of those “everything included” resorts outside Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Puerto Vallarta is a town on the Pacific coast, well below the Baja peninsula. Dr. Science had recommended it as an interesting, and less crowded, place to visit in Mexico, and I’m glad we took his advice. We had a great time, and I would definitely go back.

Richard and Russell on the beach

Richard and Russell on the beach

Our resort was actually located in Nuevo Vallarta, which (as the name suggests) is a new suburb located outside Puerto Vallarta. The resort featured multiple restaurants, a seaside bar, lots of lounges and chairs, and shady spots thanks to strategically placed palm frond umbrellas. It was on a wonderful white sand beach that went on for miles, forming a white crescent around a beautiful, blue water bay, with the Pacific stretching to infinity beyond. It was a terrific walking beach, long and unbroken, and we spent lots of time walking. On the bay itself, colorful parachutes, pulled by motorboats, filled the sky, and on the land side there were newly built condos, resorts, and expensive homes. When we got tired of walking we built sand structures, did some snorkeling, and read books.

One view of our sand structure

Our Mayan-influenced sand structure

One day Richard and I spent most of the afternoon building an elaborate sand structure, pictured at right, which borrowed from Mayan architecture. Playing in the sand is a pretty relaxing way to spend the day, particularly if you wash out the grit with a cold beer or two. I, at least, was pleased with the fruits of our labors, which attracted a fair amount of attention from beach walkers. One guy even had his picture taken next to it.

The Mexican nativity scene

The Mexican nativity scene

The food at the resort was good, and the bar was a fine place to drink a Corona with lime, argue about politics, and play some cribbage. The boys and I stayed up late and met lots of folks from other countries — mostly Canada and Germany. When we tired of the resort itself we walking to a nearby mall, where we had a good meal or two and were struck by the Mexican version of the nativity scene on display in the middle of the mall. The scene featured a a bright red Satan, complete with pitchfork and cloven hoof, lurking next to the stable and apparently undetected by the visiting kings and shepherds.

The cathedral in Puerto Vallarta

One bright day we left the friendly environs of our resort and took a cab into Puerto Vallarta, where we walked around the town. Puerto Vallarta has a pretty waterfront area and a long quay, but the most memorable structure in town is the cathedral, which has an open, crown-like top. The cathedral looms over a pretty, shaded park, with street vendors hawking their wares on the outskirts.

Enjoying a mariachi band in Puerto Vallarta

Enjoying a mariachi band in Puerto Vallarta

We decided to take a break from our walking tour at a second-story cafe, and there we had a fine surprise. As we drank our drinks on the balcony there was a commotion on the street below, and to our surprise a parade went by to help announce that the circus had come to town. All manner of animals — elephants, giraffes, monkeys, and tigers — were trucked past, accompanied by clowns, jugglers, and acrobats. At about the same time a mariachi band appeared and began playing traditional Mexican music and doing so wonderfully well. Bright sunshine, live music, cold adult beverages, exotic animals, and family members often create magical travel moments, and this was one of those special, unforgettable times.