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Man held in fatal crash had fled detention facility

Jean Ervin Soriano walked away from an Orange County center for low-level offenders four weeks before a Nevada wreck that killed five members of a Los Angeles family.

April 04, 2013|By Ruben Vives and Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times
  • Orange County officials want to know about security at facilities like the one Jean Soriano walked away from.
Orange County officials want to know about security at facilities like… (Nevada Highway Patrol )

A man accused of drunk driving in a crash that killed five members of a Los Angeles family had weeks earlier fled from an Orange County juvenile detention facility.

The Orange County Probation Department requested an arrest warrant for Jean Ervin Soriano, 18, after it discovered that he had left the Youth Guidance Center in Santa Ana on March 1. But authorities didn't find him until Saturday morning on a Nevada highway after he allegedly rear-ended a van filled with family members returning from a trip to see a dying relative.

Authorities discovered beer bottles in Soriano's SUV and police said he admitting drinking "too many" Budweisers.

Orange County supervisors are now demanding more information about how the probation department handled the case and whether more could have been done to capture him.

"The Board of Supervisors and the public have the right to know what efforts the department took to locate this suspect immediately after he walked away from the juvenile facility," Supervisor Todd Spitzer said.

Family members of those killed in the crash were stunned to learn that Soriano was a wanted fugitive at the time.

"This changes my view about him," said Elijio Fernandez Jr., who lost three brothers in the crash. "I thought, he's human, he made a mistake, but now I'm really disturbed by this; he was out there where he shouldn't have been."

The Youth Guidance Center is a county youth detention center where offenders are remanded for certain low-level offenses such as drug charges, vandalism and theft, said Ed Harrison, a spokesman for the probation department. The center also treats juvenile for substance addiction.

The facility is not guarded, so Soriano could have left fairly easily. Harrison said staffers are trained to immediately call the Juvenile Court when a youth escapes from the facility so an arrest warrant can issued at once.

Sheriff's Department records show the Orange County Juvenile Court issued a misdemeanor arrest warrant for Soriano on March 8, seven days after he escaped.

Soriano was still a juvenile when a court sent him to the center, so records about what prompted his sentence were sealed. Spitzer said a judge could authorize the release portions of Soriano's juvenile record during a hearing next week.

Soriano is being held at the Clark County detention center in Las Vegas on $3.5-million bail.

He is accused of being behind the wheel of a Dodge Durango that rear-ended a Chevy Astro van carrying seven people about 30 miles south of Mesquite, Nev. early Saturday.

The crash left five members of a family dead and two others injured. All but two of the van's occupants were wearing seat belts, according to authorities.

Soriano and his 23-year-old passenger suffered minor injuries. He was arrested on seven counts of suspicion of driving drunk and killing five people and seriously injuring two others. He also was cited for driving without a license.

Soriano told authorities in Nevada that he lived in Utah, Clark County prosecutors said. But it appears that he spent much of the last few years in Orange County, with addresses in San Juan Capistrano, Mission Viejo and Ladera Ranch. Photos on Facebook show him holding a beer.

Spitzer said he wants to know how Soriano got out and whether there needs to be better security at such facilities.

The Youth Guidance Center is an 80-bed facility that handles offenders 13 to 20 years old.

"The primary goal of each program is to provide cognitive-behavioral interventions to encourage pro-social thinking and to develop the minor emotionally, behaviorally, vocationally and academically to prepare the minor for reentry back into the community," according to the facility's website.

Youths are required to attend a school connected to the center.

Fernandez said he wants officials to investigate how Soriano was able to elude capture for so many weeks.

"Either way, justice caught up to him. He won't harm anyone else."

ruben.vives@latimes.com

joseph.serna@latimes.com

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