MOAPA, Nev. (AP) — An 18-year-old accused of driving drunk in a Nevada crash that killed five California family members was cleared of charges Wednesday after DNA evidence showed his friend was the one driving the SUV.
Jean Ervin Soriano had a blood-alcohol percentage of 0.12 when the SUV rear-ended a van carrying seven people to the Los Angeles area after an Easter weekend visit to a sick relative in Denver. Soriano faced seven felony charges of driving under the influence causing death or substantial injury in the pre-dawn crash March 30 on Interstate 15 about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
But the investigation later determined that he wasn’t behind the wheel. Alfred Gomez, 23 — originally thought to be a passenger — was the driver. Nevada Highway Patrol investigators never drew blood from him because they thought he was a passenger, so it’s not known if he had been drinking. Investigators found several beer bottles in the vehicle.
Troopers said Soriano later acknowledged that he was driving. A justice of the peace dismissed the charges, which also included two misdemeanor counts of failure to decrease speed and driving without a license.
The Nevada Highway Patrol said Soriano and Gomez were hurt when their Dodge Durango rear-ended a Chevrolet van carrying a trio of brothers and four other family members back to the Los Angeles area for Easter after visiting a sick relative in Denver.
The van overturned in the desert, killing Genaro Fernandez, 41, of Norwalk; Raudel Fernandez-Avila, 49, and Belen Fernandez, 53, both of Lynwood; and Angela Sandoval, 13, and Leonardo Fernandez-Avila, 45, both of Los Angeles.
The driver of the van, Maria Rosario Cardanas, 40, and a 15-year-old passenger, Eddie Sandoval, were the only survivors.
After Soriano’s arrest, authorities in Orange County, Calif., said that he fled March 1 from a juvenile guidance center in Santa Ana that treats drug and alcohol abusers.