Ethan Couch, the wealthy Texas teenager who fled with his mother to Mexico, tried to keep a low profile while the two of them stayed at a popular getaway for American tourists, but they still stood out, according to people who saw them.
After first staying at an $80 a night beachfront hotel, Couch, 18, and his 48-year-old mother Tonya later moved to a modest apartment, and she used a false name at least once during their time in the Pacific resort of Puerto Vallarta.
Still, they attracted unwanted attention.
The two left a gun in a drawer at the Los Tules hotel after changing rooms during their Dec. 20-25 stay, according to two staff at the hotel, who showed a photo of the weapon. They asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing their jobs.
The staff said the black and silver revolver was returned to the pair. The Couches paid in cash and had aimed to stay longer, but the rooms they wanted were all booked up after Christmas, they added.
At that point, they elected to move into a two-bedroom second-floor apartment further into town. Though sights of them were often fleeting, several people said they recognized the pair when shown recently published photos.
“She was very normal, very calm, she didn’t talk much,” said Ramon Hernandez, a waiter who twice served the mother food.
Couch and his mother fled to Mexico as U.S. authorities investigated a possible violation of the probation deal that had kept him out of prison for a 2013 drunken-driving crash that killed four people. They were arrested on Monday evening.
The youth became known as the “affluenza” teen during his trial in juvenile court. A psychologist said that he was so wealthy and spoiled he could not distinguish between right and wrong.
Convicted on four manslaughter counts, Couch was sentenced to 10 years drug-and-alcohol-free probation, a punishment critics saw as far too lenient.
Tonya Couch was deported from Mexico to the United States on Wednesday, but her son’s return has been delayed by an injunction against extradition, a Mexican official said.
‘ALISHA’ AT THE LAUNDROMAT
A registration slip provided by the Los Tules staff showed the two checked in on Dec. 20 with their dog, described by locals as a German Shepherd cross.
“They spent practically the whole time in their room, they ordered food,” one of the staff members said.
By the time they were arrested they were using fake names, one witness said. Early on Monday afternoon, Tonya Couch walked into a local laundromat and dropped off a bag of clothes, giving her name as “Alisha,” owner Lupita Curiel said.
The name aroused Curiel’s suspicion because she hesitated slightly before saying it – and it was the same name given by the person ahead of Couch in the line, she said. Speaking English, she also left an incomplete phone number, she added.
Both the name Alisha and the invalid six-digit number were visible on the ticket left at the laundromat, where the bag of washed and folded clothes sat on the shelf near the entrance.
Prosecutors in the state of Jalisco, where Puerto Vallarta is located, said the two moved to the apartment after deciding on a “more discreet” place to stay.
Four people staying in the apartment building at 1030 Avenida Colombia on the street where Ethan and Tonya Couch were detained reported seeing them there. Though only a few blocks from the beach, the area lacks visible tourist trappings.
By contrast, the seafront promenade is adorned with bronze sculptures by Mexican artist Sergio Bustamante and tourists stroll or dine at seafood restaurants. Boutique hotels pack the area.
Among those who saw the mother and son was a tenant barber who gave only his first name, Carlos, and who said the building’s owner had told him that the mother and son had spent four days in the same apartment he himself had previously rented at a cost of around 6,000 pesos ($350) per month.
The owner, identified by tenants as Guillermo Quiroga, could not be reached for comment.
Carmen Rodriguez, a cook at a no-frills restaurant about a block away from the apartment, said she had twice served the pair breakfast for about 40 pesos each. The restaurant mainly caters to locals, she said, which meant the two stood out.
When shown the police booking shot of the previously fair-haired Ethan Couch with dark hair, Rodriguez expressed surprise.
“When I saw him he had lighter hair,” she said. “I think he’s just had it colored because he didn’t look like that.”
Two people also said they saw the pair bringing an order of Domino’s Pizza back to the apartment.
U.S. media reported that a call to Domino’s had helped trace the mother and son, but Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson in Texas said it was “really good old-fashioned police work.”
“A lot of people are attributing one thing like this phone call, but it was much more than that,” he added. “We certainly used every tool in our tool kit to find them.”
($1 = 17.28 Mexican pesos)
(Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin; Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Frances Kerry, Kieran Murray and Tom Brown)
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