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Teen accused in fatal DUI escaped from substance abuse center

April 04, 2013|By Ruben Vives and Joseph Serna
  • Jean Soriano, 18, is accused of killing five people when he rear-ended a van while driving drunk on Interstate 15 in Nevada.
Jean Soriano, 18, is accused of killing five people when he rear-ended a… (Nevada Highway Patrol )

The juvenile facility that an 18-year-old accused of killing five people while driving drunk escaped from was a detention center for people with substance abuse issues, according to Orange County's website.

Jean Ervin Soriano, 18, escaped on March 1 from the Youth Guidance Center in Santa Ana, which is operated by the county’s probation department.

The 80-bed facility keeps 60 beds for males and 20 for females and treats offenders from 13 to 20 years old. It offers two main programs, for drug and alcohol abusers.

“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 fthe minor for re-entry back into the community,” according to the facility’s website.

Participants are required to attend Rio Contiguo High School as part of a mandatory academic program. It was unclear what school Soriano attended previously. A Capistrano Unified School District official said Soriano was a student in their district until 2010.

Details of how he escaped and what efforts the department took to locate him were unknown.

At least one Orange County supervisor said he was furious that the probation department had not notified the board about the connection until Monday, two days after the fatal crash on Interstate 15 in Nevada.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer also requested an investigation into the matter.

“I was a prosecutor, I was a police officer and I’ve dedicated my professional career to stop drunk driving incidents,” Spitzer said. “And to find out that my own county had an escaped juvenile and we’re notified [two] days later after he killed five people, yeah, of course I’m outraged.”

The email notification of Soriano’s fugitive status was sent to the chief executive officer Monday at 12:14 p.m. by the county’s spokesman, on behalf of Chief Probation Officer Steve Sentman whose department oversees the center.

The chief executive officer forwarded the email an hour later to staff members of the Board of Supervisors, according to email records obtained by the Los Angeles Times.  

But by Wednesday, some of the supervisors hadn’t seen the email. Spitzer says he planned to address the notification process and has sent more than a dozen questions to Sentman related to Soriano’s case.

He asked why the board wasn't notified immediately after the March 1 escape and what methods the department took to locate Soriano.

“When things like this happen, it leads to a series of questions,” Spitzer said. “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.”

Meanwhile, Soriano is being held at the Clark County detention center in Nevada in lieu of $3.5-million bail.

He is accused of being behind the wheel of a Dodge Durango about 3 a.m. Saturday when it rear-ended a Chevy Astro van carrying seven people on Interstate 15, about 30 miles south of Mesquite.

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

Soriano and his 23-year-old passenger suffered minor injuries.

Once Soriano was released from the hospital, 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.

According to an arrest report, Soriano told a Nevada Highway Patrol deputy he had been drinking Budweisers before the crash and that he was heading to Las Vegas after visiting relatives in Utah. Several beer bottles were found in his car, police said.

Soriano was born in Mission Viejo, according to officials at the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas.

According to a Facebook page that appeared to belong to Soriano, he lives in San Juan Capistrano. A police citation from 2011 listed his address in Ladera Ranch.

The crash has devastated family members of the victims.

Those killed were Genaro Fernandez, 41; his two brothers, Raudel Fernandez-Avila, 49, and Leonardo Fernandez-Avila, 45; Raudel Fernandez-Avila’s wife, Belen, 53; and Angela Sandoval, 13.

Leonardo Fernandez-Avila’s girlfriend, Maria Cardenas, was injured; she is Angela’s mother. Her son, Eddie, 15, lost a leg in the crash, according to relatives.

The entire group was heading home from Colorado, where they had visited the Hernandez brothers’ dying father, Elijio Sr.

A relative said the Fernandez Foundation fund was established at Bank of America to help pay for the funerals.

Angela’s friends are planning to hold a car wash over the weekend in Pico Rivera to raise money for the funerals.

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ruben.vives@latimes.com

joseph.serna@latimes.com

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