Dee Anderson, sheriff of Tarrant County in Texas, said Ethan Couch, aged 18, who was on probation after killing four people in a drink-driving rampage, and his mother Tonya had prepared to be gone a while, even dyeing Couch’s blond hair black, before being detained in the Pacific Coast resort of Puerto Vallarta.
“They had planned to disappear,” said Anderson.
“They even had something that was almost akin to a going-away party before leaving town.”
Anderson would not give details about the event, including how many people attended.
In June 2013, a drunken Couch was speeding on a road south of Fort Worth when he crashed into an SUV at the side of the road, killing four people and injuring several others, including passengers in his pick-up truck.
He pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury.
A judge sentenced him in juvenile court to 10 years’ probation and a stint in a rehabilitation centre.
Authorities had begun searching for Couch and his mother after he missed a mandatory appointment with his probation officer on December 10.
During the sentencing phase of Couch’s trial, a defence expert argued that his wealthy parents coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility — a condition the expert termed “affluenza”.
The condition is not recognised as a medical diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association and its invocation drew ridicule.
Couch disappeared as authorities investigated whether he had violated the terms of his probation.
Anderson said Couch and his mother apparently crossed the border in her pick-up truck and drove to Puerto Vallarta.
It was not clear whether they had any accomplices.
Anderson said authorities had no evidence that Couch’s father, who owns a sheet metal factory in North Texas, was involved.
Jalisco state prosecutor Eduardo Almaguer Ramirez said US authorities knew the mother and son were in Puerto Vallarta because of a phone call to Domino’s Pizza.
A US Marshals Service agent tipped authorities in Mexico to the location of the phone, according to a police report issued by the Jalisco state prosecutors’ office.
The phone had been used to order pizza for a room at a condominium complex.
When agents arrived the Couches had already moved on, but a tourism operator pointed them to the mother and son’s new home at an apartment in Puerto Vallarta’s old town.
Agents set up a surveillance operation in the area and found the Couches that night.
The police report says they claimed to be carrying no ID and gave inconsistent stories about their names.
They were taken into custody and handed over to immigration officials.