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Teen charged in crash that killed 5 was wanted by police at time

April 04, 2013|By Joseph Serna and Ruben Vives
  • Three sons mourn the loss of their father Leonardo Fernandez on the front steps of his home in East Los Angeles on April 1.
Three sons mourn the loss of their father Leonardo Fernandez on the front… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

A teenager 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 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 car filled with family members returning from a trip to see a dying relative.

Authorities found beer bottles in Soriano’s car, and police said he had 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,” said Supervisor Todd Spitzer.

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

The facility is not guarded, so Soriano could leave fairly easily. Harrison said staffers are trained to immediately call the juvenile court when a youth escapes the facility so an arrest warrant can immediately issued.

Sheriff’s Department records show the Orange County Juvenile Court issued a misdemeanor arrest warrant for Soriano on May 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 of portions of Soriano’s juvenile record during a hearing next week.

Soriano is now being held at the Clark County detention center in Las Vegas in lieu of $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 morning.

The crash left five members of a 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. 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 he spent much of the last few years in Orange County, with addresses in San Juan Capistrano, Mission Viejo and Ladera Ranch. Photos of him 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 80-bed facility that handles offenders ages 13 to 20.

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

Youth are required to attend a special continuation school connected to the center.

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.”

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.”

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ruben.vives@latimes.com
joseph.serna@latimes.com

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