On a summer night more than two years ago, Sergio Molina was thrown from the back of a pickup truck. The 16-year-old had been at an unsupervised party in Burleson, Tex., where teenagers were playing beer pong and taking shots of grain alcohol. Molina was a soccer player, an outgoing kid with many friends.
Then came the crash.
Along with six other partygoers, Molina climbed into a truck being driven by then 16-year-old Ethan Couch. Many had told Couch he was too drunk to drive, but still they followed, and still he took the wheel.
Going at 70 miles per hour, Couch swerved down a country road, skidding off into a ditch. Several passengers, including Molina and Couch, were thrown from the vehicle.
Four neighborhood residents who had been standing by the road at the time were killed. Molina suffered a serious brain injury, and from that night onward, he could neither speak nor move.
Meanwhile, Couch was bloodied but in one piece.
The 2013 drunk-driving case provoked outrage after Couch was sentenced to just 10 years of probation and rehab despite admitting to several counts of intoxication manslaughter and intoxication assault. (Prosecutors had recommended 20 years behind bars.)
During the sentencing hearing, Couch’s attorneys called upon a prominent psychologist, Dr. G. Dick Miller, who testified that Couch suffered from “affluenza” — a lack of personal responsibility and awareness of consequences resulting from his privileged upbringing.
Couch and his mother, Tonya Couch, made headlines again in December after the teenager missed a probation hearing. The pair was found in a Mexican resort city, and “affluenza” became a catch-all term for buying one’s way past the law.
On the heels of a ruling Friday that Couch will be moved to an adult court, his victims’ families are urging the public to turn their attention away from him and toward the lives he took away.
“The law’s going to do what they’re going to do — it’s already been done,” Molina’s older brother, Alex Lemus, said at a news conference Friday. “I told the old judge, I told the new judge, and I told Ethan Couch and his father and his mother — I told all of them — y’all won.”
Even with the move, the most severe punishment Couch could face is 120 days in jail, plus 10 more years of probation, the Associated Press reported. If he violates his probation during that time, though, he could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for each of the four people killed.
For Lemus, the sentence amounted to “nothing.” He was flanked by Isaiah McLaughlin, another victim of the accident. Molina sat bundled in a wheelchair beside them, a soccer-ball-patterned blanket draped over his unmoving legs.
“Take a look,” Lemus said, gesturing to his brother. “You have not gone to my house to see what we have to change, to see what we do every day with my brother in order for him to stay stable, to keep breathing.”
He added that his mother has forgiven the Couches in “Jesus’s name,” but they want more financial help for his continued care.
“My brother is doing more than probation,” Lemus said.
Speaking on her front steps Saturday, Maria Lemus, Molina’s mother, told the Dallas Morning News that she “begged” the Couch family for help after the crash, because her son was uninsured and they couldn’t afford to keep him in the hospital for more than a month.
“They refused,” Lemus said. “They say, ‘There’s nothing we can do. Go ahead and call a lawyer.'” While the family eventually received $2 million in settlement money, the critical time for treating brain damage is in the first few months, and Lemus wonders whether keeping him in the hospital longer would have made a difference.
Today, her son can communicate only by blinking his eyes, the Dallas Morning News reported. One blink means yes; two means no.
Molina spends his days watching soccer on TV, and Lemus has quit her job to care for him.
“People say we have to die to go to hell,” she said. “To me, I’ve already been there.”
The families of other victims have expressed similar anguish about Couch’s sentencing, particularly in light of the fact that the 18-year-old has never expressed remorse.
Eric Boyles lost his wife and daughter, who were were standing outside his home when Couch careened down the road. The sentencing in 2013 left him stunned and in tears.
“We had 180 years of life taken…,” Boyles told CBS as he wept. “Money always seems to keep Ethan out of trouble. This was one time I did ask the court for justice, for money not to prevail. And ultimately today I felt like money did prevail.”
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