Jean Ervin Soriano, 18, has been acquitted of DUI in a crash that took the lives of 5 people and injured 2. Sariano had been charged with 7 felony charges of Driving Under the Influence Causing Death or Substantial Injury. He was facing a mandatory sentence of 2 to 20 year’s incarceration for each charge, with no possibility of parole.
According to Nevada Highway Patrol reports, the crash occurred on March 30, 2013. Soriano confessed to driving a 1999 Durango that had been traveling at an extremely high rate of speed when it rear ended a Chevrolet Astro carrying a family of 7 NHP estimated that the Durango was traveling at over 105 MPH within the 75 MPH speed zone. The force of the impact overturned the Astro. Most of the victims were ejected from the vehicle.
A truck driver who witnessed the crash told investigators that he had seen Soriano and his passenger run away from the site; then they returned to the scene once the rescue units arrived. The Durango had been overturned by the impact of the crash. According to Trooper Loy Hixon, it had been littered with both opened and unopened beer bottles.
Genaro Fernandez, 42; Maria Belen-Fernandez, 53; Raudel Fernandez-Avila, 49; Angela Sandoval, 13; and Leonardo Fernandez-Avila, 45 were killed in the crash. Eddie Sandoval, 15; and driver Maria Rosario Cardanas, 40, were both hospitalized with serious injuries. According to surviving family members, this had been no “pleasure trip”. While other people were enjoying Spring Break and celebrating the Easter holiday, the crash victims had been on their way back home to Los Angeles after visiting a sick relative in the Denver area.
Soriano informed troopers at the scene that he had been the person behind the wheel and that he had consumed “too many beers” before the crash. He was taken to a nearby hospital for observation and was released a few hours later. A blood test revealed that Soriano’s alcohol level was .12 at the time of the crash.
The second occupant of the Durango, 23 year old Alfred Gomez of Saint George, Utah, had been injured in the crash. He was transported to the hospital. There was no evidence available to prove that Gomez had been driving under the influence, because his BAC (Blood Alcohol Level) had not been tested. He was not placed under arrest, but it there is a strong possibility that Gomez will now face criminal charges.
Trooper Robert Lynn, the lead investigator on the case, presented forensic evidence that proved Sariano had not been the driver, including a footprint found on the driver’s door and DNA from blood drops that had been found on the passenger window.
One of the biggest questions was, “If Soriano was innocent, then why would he confess to being the driver?” According to Defense Attorney Frank Cofer, Soriano lied to the police because he was intimidated by the older man.
Soriano did not take the stand in his own defense and therefore was not subject to cross examination from the prosecution. According to witnesses, he mostly kept his head bowed during the proceedings.
Needless to say, the victim’s family was too distraught to comment on the case. Having first lost their loved ones in an instant, then seeing the alleged guilty party go free, was obviously anguishing for them.
In contrast, Soriano’s family was overcome with relief.
“We are really happy,” Soriano’s aunt, Nelly Caprian, said. “Finally, he’s not guilty. The lawyers provided the proof and the evidence.”
Soriano was not immediately released. He was transported back to Las Vegas to be discharged from the jail.
The story has not over, however. District Attorney Brian Rutledge stated that Soriano could have pending charges. Soriano had not exactly been a “choir boy” and was reportedly no stranger to the criminal justice system. Prior to the crash, Soriano had been committed in a juvenile justice facility that offered substance abuse treatment. He had fled the program on March first. It is not known whether or not Soriano will be ordered to return.
Cofer stated that he believes the three months Soriano spent in jail was the “wake up call” that Soriano needed. It is doubtful that Soriano will seek civil damages as a result his arrest.
Prosecutor Brian Rutledge indicated that the case is still under investigation, and that “The driver could still face charges felony vehicular manslaughter or felony DUI causing serious bodily injury or death”. At the time this article was written, Gomez was not yet in custody, because his current residence is unknown.
That is little comfort to the victims’ families, who were reported to be in stunned disbelief at Soriano’s arrest. They not only face the possibility of suffering through another court battle; they are still grieving over their sudden loss. Their lives have forever been irrevocably changed; particularly for Pablo Fernandez, who was not only seriously injured, but also lost both his beloved parents in a terrible instant.
“They have basically destroyed a lot of families,” Griselda Fernandez (daughter of Maria Belen-Fernandez) said. “But we’re no one to judge. I know that somehow God will punish them.”
To learn more: