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Suspected DUI driver in deadly Nevada crash had escaped detention

April 04, 2013|By Ruben Vives and Joe Serna | This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.
  • Elijio Fernandez, 54, mourns the loss of his three brothers, who were among five people killed when their van was struck by a suspected drunk driver in Nevada.
Elijio Fernandez, 54, mourns the loss of his three brothers, who were among… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

An 18-year-old accused of driving into the back of a minivan while drunk, killing five members of a family, had escaped from a juvenile correctional center 30 days before the crash, according to a public official and Orange County records.

Jean Ervin Soriano escaped on March 1 from the Youth Guidance Center in Santa Ana, which is operated by the county’s probation department. Details of how Soriano escaped and what efforts the department took to locate him were unknown.

At least one county supervisor said he was furious 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 on Soriano’s fugitive status was sent Monday at 12:14 p.m. by the county’s spokesman to the chief executive officer on behalf of Chief Probation Officer Steve Sentman, whose department oversees the center.

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

But by Wednesday, some of the supervisors hadn’t seen the email. Spitzer says he plans 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 has 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 passengers 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. A Capistrano Unified School District official said Soriano went to school in the district until 2010.

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 were visiting the Hernandez brothers’ dying father, Elijio Sr.

A relative of the family said they were starting a fund to help pay for the funerals. The Fernandez Foundation fund was established at Bank of America.

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

[For the record, 8:45 a.m. April 4: An earlier version of this post stated that Soriano had escaped more than 30 days before the crash. It was 30 days.]

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ruben.vives@latimes.com

joseph.serna@latimes.com

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