Jean Ervin Soriano appears at the Moapa Justice Center in Nevada in July. (Jerry Henkel / Associated…)
An 18-year-old man who was originally charged with felony drunk driving in a horrific desert crash that killed five family members may receive probation in exchange for a guilty plea in an unrelated crime.
Charges against Jean Ervin Soriano were dropped when investigators, weeks after the Nevada crash in March, determined that he wasn't actually the driver of the car that slammed into a vehicle carrying five Los Angeles-area family members.
Authorities now believe that another man, who they initially thought was Soriano's passenger, was at the wheel of the car.
Investigators, though, failed to administer a sobriety test to Alfred Gomez, 23, after the crash and he has not been charged.
Soriano was in Orange County on Wednesday to answer charges that he escaped from the Youth Guidance Center in Santa Ana before the crash northeast of Las Vegas.
Soriano’s attorney, Michael Mooney, and Santa Ana Judge Elizabeth Guerrero Macias on Tuesday disagreed on whether the 18-year-old should pay restitution for his escape and the costs to law enforcement for arresting him.
“If I impose probation, I can impose a loss amount,” Macias said.
However, Mooney said a government agency can only receive restitution if it is the direct victim of a crime. In this case, the law enforcement officers who arrested Soriano were not, he said.
A hearing on the matter will be held Oct. 24.
Meanwhile, prosecutors in Nevada have not decided whether they will charge Soriano with obstruction of justice. They allege that Soriano, at the urging of Gomez, falsely confessed to being the driver in the fatal crash.
“No final decision has been made, but it is something we’re still looking at,” said Tess Driver, executive assistant with the Clark County district attorney’s office.
Gomez has not been charged and his whereabouts are unknown.
The family of five killed in the crash was returning home after visiting a dying relative in Denver.
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