Fugitive Expert Says Ethan "Affluenza" Couch Won't Make It Long

Ethan Couch is in the wind. Just don't expect him to stay that way for long.
A judge handed the "affluenza"-inflicted teen 10 years probation in 2013 for killing four people while driving drunk. The judge, Jean Boyd, apparently bought Couch's defense team's contention that he wasn't responsible for his actions because his parents couldn't set boundaries or limits. Earlier this month a video surfaced on Twitter that appeared to show the 18-year-old Couch playing beer pong. The Tarrant County District Attorney's Office said it was investigating whether Couch had violated his probation, something that could lead to his serving a 10-year prison sentence. Couch then skipped a meeting with his parole officer, leading to the county issuing an arrest warrant. According to the Tarrant County Sheriff's Office, neither Couch nor his mother could be found and the office wonders if they fled the country.   
So what are the odds they can stay on the lam? Frank Ahearn, a skip-tracer and the best-selling author of How to Disappear, gives them a week. "The reality of it is, first [the authorities] are going to find out they used their passports to get into the country where they went," Ahearn says. "They don't have the ability to stay off the grid. These are white, upper-middle class people. They don't know what it's like to be on the run. They're not going to stay in cheap hotels."

Couch and his mother face additional difficulty, Ahearn says, because of the volume of publicity the case has received. If they were to go to a tourist-friendly area they would quickly be recognized by someone who reads the news. In Mexico, they would stick out because they're white in non-tourist friendly areas. To have any chance at not getting caught, Ahearn suggests Couch would need to head to an Eastern European country, one where he could blend in, and his face would not be at the top of the news.

Even if Couch was smart enough to do that, he'd face another problem, Ahearn says. "[Couch] is not the average-looking guy, either. He is kinda distinct looking in his facial features," he adds.

A two-week head start won't be enough for someone like Couch, even with the family's large bank account. "At some point, they're going to need to get more cash, and that's probably coming from somebody familiar. When people go on the run, they typically break the law to get money or they get money from family or friends and that's what's going to happen with them if they run out of money. You can't use your credit cards."

People like Couch aren't comfortable enough in criminal or gray-market circles to quietly get their hands on the money one needs to remain a fugitive, Ahearn says.
"If he didn't do something that was so catastrophic, so heinous, this could be on page six of the news," he says. "You have to remember, you can rob a million dollars and go off the grid. You rob $50 million and they're coming for you. You do something stupid, they wait until you get arrested. You kill four people, and then violate the law after that, they're coming for you."
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young