Affluenza teen Ethan Couch is a changed man who has finally realized the consequences of what he did when he drove drunk and killed four people, the best friend of one of his victims claims.
Amazingly, Tim Williams sought Couch out as he sat behind bars, and after dozens of meetings with him he now believes the country’s most notorious drunk driver finally understands the severity of his actions.
‘He told me “I don’t want to scam the system anymore. I don’t want to figure out how I can get around my probation. I just want to do what I need to do.”‘
‘I was astonished. I didn’t anticipate that,’ Williams tells DailyMailTV.
Williams, 43, is a chaplain within the family court system in Tarrant County, Texas, who was helping couples with anger issues.
But after his friend Brian Jennings was killed in Couch’s horror crash he decided to work with prisoners, just so he could meet with the man responsible for his pal’s death.
Turning over a new leaf: Ethan Couch, 20, became infamous at 16 years old when he killed four people while drunk driving in 2013. Above he is pictured when he was taken into custody after fleeing to Mexico after he violated his probation
RIP: Tim Williams ( right) explained to DailyMailTV why he sought out the teen who killed his best friend Brian Jennings (left)
And for some 18 months he thought he was wasting his time. ‘Ethan just oozed arrogance,’ Williams said in an exclusive interview with DailyMailTV.
But then everything changed one Wednesday in October and after more meetings, Williams believes Couch is finally ready to accept his responsibilities.
‘I believe he is genuine in what he says.’
Couch, 20, is due to be released in less than two weeks after serving less than two years in jail.
He was behind the wheel of his father’s red Ford F-350 pick-up on the night of June 15, 2013 when he sped at 70 mph down the road from his home in Burleson, Texas, where he was hosting a drunken teenage party. Earlier in the day Couch and two friends had stolen three cases of Miller Light from a local Walmart.
As the party got into its swing, one of the guests found she needed a tampon and everyone there piled into Couch’s father’s truck to go to a nearby convenience store.
Couch, then 16, smashed into an SUV that had stopped by the side of the road after its tire blew, killing its driver Breanna Mitchell, 24, and three people who had come to her aid, Jennings, who was on his way home from his son’s graduation, and mother-and-daughter neighbors Hollie and Shelby Boyles.
Sergio Molina, one of Couch’s passengers, was paralyzed and can now communicate only by blinking.
A blood test taken three hours after the crash showed Couch was three times over the limit and that he had both marijuana and valium in his system.
Couch’s trial sparked a media firestorm after his legal team infamously invoked the ‘affluenza’ defense that got him off the hook and resulted only in probation
He was behind the wheel of his father’s red Ford F-350 pick-up on the night of June 15, 2013 when he sped at 70 mph down the road from his home in Burleson, Texas, where he was hosting a drunken teenage party
At his trial, psychologist Dick Miller said Couch was the victim of ‘affluenza’ — as his millionaire parents had never taught him right from wrong. Judge Jean Boyd agreed and gave him a slap-on-the-wrist sentence of 10 years’ probation with the condition he went to rehab and did not drink alcohol.
Prosecutors had asked for the maximum 20-year prison term.
But 20 months into his probation a video posted on Twitter showed Couch at a beer pong party. Even though there was no evidence in the video that he was drinking, Couch and his mother, Tonya, fled to Mexico with the family dog rather than deal with a possible probation violation.
After nearly three weeks on the lam they were found living in an apartment in the Pacific coast resort of Puerto Vallarta. Police detected a ping from one of their cellphones as they ordered a pizza from Domino’s.
Forgiveness: Tim Williams told DailyMailTV that he believes Couch is a reformed person on a ‘good journey’
During his time in Mexico, Couch spent hundreds of dollars at the Harem strip club where he was seen snorting cocaine as he cavorted with two topless girls.
Couch even fought plans to repatriate him to the United States, but was eventually brought back and sentenced to 720 days in jail for breaching probation.
Now that jail term is near its end and Couch will re-enter society just a few days before he turns 21 — he would be able to take his first legal drink of alcohol on April 11 if he wasn’t banned by the terms of his probation.
And Williams believes he can make it despite his infamy. ‘I believe Ethan is on a good journey,’ he told DailyMailTV. ‘But he will carry this weight that continues to burden him.’
He can even be a force for good, Williams believes, speaking to other kids in a bid to get them on the right path.
‘He has expressed some desire to assist others. My impression is he has no wish to go and do the big stuff but rather just to say “Hey, kids, don’t do what I did. Don’t think like I thought. Don’t believe you’re going to get away with it.”‘
Williams and Jennings grew up in Burleson, a suburb of Fort Worth. Though Jennings was two years older, they became friends in high school through their church.
They both studied at Howard Payne University and worked in the Baptist Church, and each stood as best man at the other’s wedding.
So when Jennings, a father-of-three, was killed, Williams was shattered and when Couch’s sentence was handed down, he believed it was a travesty.
‘I was very upset at what I thought was a terrible injustice,’ he told DailyMailTV. ‘You shouldn’t get probation at any age for willfully stealing and then drinking and driving. It was intentional decision after decision after decision.’
He was particularly offended by the concept of affluenza, a term coined to describe the negative effects of having too much.
Victims: Couch slammed into the SUV of 24-year-old Breanna Mitchell (left) and mother-and-daughter neighbors Hollie and Shelby Boyles (right)
Sergio Molina, one of Couch’s passengers, was paralyzed and can now communicate only by blinking
‘In my view, the idea of affluenza is a joke. I’m not sure that there is an opposite term that says you can get away with things if you are too poor,’ he said. ‘It is a huge error of thought.
And when he saw the video of the beer pong party he immediately thought that Couch would not be able to keep to the terms of his probation. ‘My feeling — and that of others involved in the case — was: “Well, we kind of expected this.”
‘At that stage I didn’t know him. He was just the kid who was drunk and killed,’ Williams told said. But after Couch was sentenced to jail in April 2016, Williams decided he wanted to meet the man who had killed his best friend.
‘I don’t know why. I didn’t need anything from Ethan,’ he said, but nevertheless he spoke to then-Tarrant County sheriff Dee Anderson and asked if it would be possible. ‘He got really wide-eyed and he leaned back and got really cautious and he said ‘Why would you want to do that?’
For the first several months their contact was limited to video conferences as Couch was in solitary confinement in the Tarrant County Corrections Center in downtown Fort Worth.
‘I would be in the jail in a cubby looking at a monitor, looking through the slot where they pass his food and could only see half of Ethan’s face through the slot.’
Tonya Couch, pictured at a Fort Worth mall last week, is due back in court on May 21, for her much-delayed trial on charges of hindering the apprehension of a fugitive and money laundering after she fled with Ethan to Mexico
Even after he was released into the general population, Williams said he did not want physical contact with him. ‘There needed to be glass involved, I didn’t want to reach out and touch this kid at all.’
He has still never shaken hands with Couch or given him a hug. He has only met him through the glass.
At their first meeting, Williams told Couch of his close connection to the case. ‘I told him I’m not coming here to yell or fix you, I don’t know where this is going.
‘I told him I had asked myself over and over and over why would I do this. I had talked to my wife, my guy friends, my pastor. There is still no real clear answer today as to why I felt the need to meet him.
‘He was stumped, kind of “You don’t know why you’re here, I don’t know why you’re here, so what are we doing?”
‘It was that awkward. I told him I didn’t know if we would meet again or meet long-term, but that my hope and prayer was that we would meet today and that we would meet another time so I asked if we could meet again, and he said OK.’
But for months Williams thought he was getting nowhere as he tried to get Couch to accept his forgiveness. ‘For the first year I would tell him “I just don’t think you are telling the truth.”‘
When Couch’s mother Tonya went on television last summer complaining that Ethan had been moved to a different part of the jail without her being informed, he even got concerned. ‘She was crying for her son and I thought, “Do you want him to be a target?” because you don’t want to look weak in jail.
After his jail term, Ethan is expected to move in with his father Fred in his specially built 7,300 square foot home in Fort Worth
‘I asked him what in the world is your mom doing on TV? It’s not good for you. He said: “You have no idea how much I yelled at her.”‘
Williams pressed the idea of forgiveness, but Couch was reluctant to accept it, the chaplain said. ‘I told him “Ethan I have not met anyone who needs forgiveness more than you, I know that they are out there, there are people who intentionally planned to take lives, but I have never met them.”
‘To me, it was like having a box at your front door and thinking “I am not going to open that. Thank you but that’s not for me.” That is the way I interpreted him.
But that all changed on October 25 last year, said Williams. ‘He said: “I think I can open that box today” and I just froze. I said why today, and he said “I haven’t been able to do it but today I think I can.”
‘It sounds a bit trite I know, but that’s what happened.’
And from then on, Williams said, Couch has continued on his journey, realizing the extent of what he did and how it affected so many.
But even he is not sure. ‘It really hit me two weeks ago. I was at home and I called my dad for some house maintenance questions, I think I knew the answers but I don’t want to buy the wrong thing and have to go back to Lowe’s and return it.
‘It just hit me, Brian’s kids are not going to be able to call their dad when they’re my age. It sort of broke the dam that I thought I was past and I think it is because Ethan is so close to coming out.
‘I told Ethan the story and said these people don’t have their father any more, the other families don’t have their wife and daughters and there is the son that’s so badly injured. He was somber, he faced me and said: ‘Yeah, I know, that’s why it’s so hard.’
THE PARENTS WHO RUINED ‘AFFLUENZA TEEN’ ETHAN COUCH
As Ethan Couch prepares to leave jail over the Easter weekend his mother Tonya is preparing for a possible long stretch behind bars herself.
Tonya, 50, is due back in court on May 21, for her much-delayed trial on charges of hindering the apprehension of a fugitive and money laundering. She faces a maximum 10 years in state prison.
Tonya Couch, 57, in her booking photo
The charges relate to the 1,300-mile drive to Puerto Vallarta with Ethan and the family dog, Virgil, and the $30,000 she took from the joint account she had with then-husband Fred Couch — Ethan’s father — to finance the 2015 trip.
Tonya’s life has been a downhill spiral ever since she was arrested in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and thrown in jail.
After being released on bail she got a job working in a biker bar, the Honky Tonk Women in Azle, Texas, but that lasted only a few weeks after the judge found out and changed the conditions of her bail so that she should not be around alcohol.
She then went to live in a one-bathroom house in the remote Dido section of Fort Worth — an area that the website Texas Escapes described as ‘a ghost town’ — but a fight with her roommate ended that arrangement and in November she moved in with Steven McWilliams, her son from her first marriage, and his wife Misty in Fort Worth.
Now though, even if she manages to avoid prison Tonya faces another move. The three-bedroom home on a corner lot with a pool is close to being sold. The McWilliamses accepted an offer within a week of it being put up for sale this month for $161,777.
It’s all a far cry from the lavish life that Tonya had lived through her two marriages to Fred. When they divorced in 2006 she and Ethan stayed in the family home, a 4,000-square foot ranch house in Burleson with a pool, playground, huge wet bar and 6,000 square-foot workshop.
Ethan Couch’s father Fred Couch
She sent Ethan to the private Anderson School, and he was driving himself there when he was just 13. When the principal complained, Fred offered to buy the school, D Magazine reported in an article that called Fred and Tonya ‘The Worst Parents Ever.’
Dick Miller, the psychologist who used the term ‘affluenza’ in court, described the family as ‘profoundly dysfunctional.’ Instead of being taught the golden rule, he said, Ethan was taught: ‘We have the gold, we make the rules.’
Miller described Fred, now 52, as ‘either an a**hole — aggressive, loud, pushy — or frightened.’
Fred described his marriage to Tonya as ‘a mistake from the start,’ telling a court-appointed social worker she had a pill addiction and often threatened suicide to get her own way.
Tonya said he was verbally and physically abusive and during one fight he had threatened to burn the house down.
Nevertheless, the couple agreed to remarry once the realities of divorce set in, though their second marriage crumbled after Ethan’s arrest.
Despite his faults, Fred Couch has prospered. His company, Cleburne Sheet Metal, continues to thrive and is reported to have annual sales of some $15 million.
And while his ex-wife has been reduced to moving in with her family, Fred is still living large in the 7,300 square-foot home he built on a three-acre lot in 1997.