A Texas teen from an affluent family was sentenced to probation this week after he killed four pedestrians when he lost control of his speeding pickup truck while driving drunk, a punishment that outraged the victims’ families and left prosecutors disappointed.

The boy (16) was sentenced on Tuesday in a juvenile court to 10 years of probation after he confessed to intoxication manslaughter in the June 15 crash on a dark rural road. Prosecutors had sought the maximum 20 years in state custody for the teen.

Authorities said the teen had seven passengers in his Ford F-350, was speeding and had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit, according to testimony during the trial. His pickup truck slammed into the four pedestrians, aged 21 to 52.

The judge said the programmes available in the Texas juvenile justice system may not provide the kind of intensive therapy the teen could receive at a rehabilitation centre in California that was suggested by his defence attorneys. The parents would pick up the tab for the centre, at a cost of more than $450,000 a year for treatment. Scott Brown, the boy’s lead defence attorney, said he could have been freed after two years if he had drawn the 20-year sentence.

But instead, the judge “fashioned a sentence that could have him under the thumb of the justice system for the next 10 years”, he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Relatives of those killed in the accident drew little comfort from that assurance.

Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter, said the family’s wealth helped the teen avoid incarceration.

A psychologist called as an expert defence witness said the boy suffered from “affluenza”, growing up in a wealthy home where the parents were preoccupied with arguments that led to a divorce.“Essentially what he [the judge] has done is slapped this child on the wrist for what is obviously a very serious offense which he would be responsible for in any other situation,” Mr. Buffone said. “The defence is laughable, the disposition is horrifying ... not only haven’t the parents set any consequences, but it’s being reinforced by the judge’s actions”.— AP

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