BURLESON -- A judge has ordered the parents of Ethan Couch to pay less than the actual cost of their son's treatment in a state-run rehabilitation hospital.
Couch's parents will have to pay $1,170 per month. A placement officer said the actual cost of Vernon State Hospital is $715 per day. This means that they'll be paying for less than two days of every month their son is there. The rest will come from the state mental health care budget.
The officer told News 8 that the hospital requires families to pay on a sliding scale.
Couch's parents were back in court Friday morning to sign off on their share of their son’s mental health treatment costs.
They could have been celebrating his 17th birthday Friday. But Couch killed four people and injured several more while driving drunk in June 2013 when he plowed into a group of people helping a stranded motorist.
A psychologist previously testified Couch has multiple mental health issues, including depression and substance abuse. When his lawyers pleaded for probation, they said his parents would pay for mental health care at a private lodge in California for about $35,000 per month.
Couch was sentenced to 10 years of probation and an undetermined amount of time in a mental health facility in December.
It was revealed in court Friday that Judge Jean Boyd instead sent Couch to a state mental hospital in Vernon in West Texas that costs quite a bit less, at $21,000 per month. Sources say Ethan Couch went to the state hospital in late February. A state health department spokeswoman said the average stay in Couch's unit is six months.
"The family respects the decision of the facility and the court, and will honor the payment system the court has put in place," said Fred and Tonya Couch’s attorney, Lance Evans.
Among the few people in court to hear the financial fallout were the parents of 13-year-old Lucas McConnell. He was in the pick-up driven by his youth pastor Brian Jennings. Jennings was killed.
Kevin McConnell had little comment on the fact that he and other taxpayers will pay for most of Couch’s treatment.
“That's not my call. We have a criminal justice system and legal system, and that's not my call to make," he said.
If Couch had not received probation, he could have been locked up in a juvenile facility. A spokesman for the juvenile justice department told News 8 that could average up to $350 per day, or about half the hospital costs. But in that scenario, Couch's parents wouldn't have had to pay any of it.
An attorney representing Brian Jennings’ family says they're close to a financial settlement with Couch's parents. Most other victims already have settled.
Not the McConnells. They say they're not dropping their civil case.
"It's just another step in a long journey,” said Kevin McConnell, standing outside the courtroom. “We plan to be there for all the steps."