Elijio Fernandez Jr., who lost five relatives including his three brothers in a suspected DUI crash in Nevada, said he was angered and shocked to hear that the 18-year-old driver at the center of the deadly accident was a fugitive.
“This changes my view about him,” Fernandez said. “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.
“I don’t forgive him anymore.”
Jean Ervin Soriano, 18, 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.
Five of the seven passengers were ejected from the van and killed. All but two of those passengers were wearing seat belts, according to authorities.
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 county emails obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Soriano escaped on March 1 from the Youth Guidance Center in Santa Ana, which is operated by Orange 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.
At least one Orange County supervisor said he was furious that the probation department had not notified the board directly about the connection until Monday, two days after the crash.
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 Times.
But by Wednesday, some of the supervisors hadn’t seen the email. Spitzer said 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.”
On Thursday, Fernandez said he also wanted to know how Soriano escaped and wondered whether he was trying to flee from authorities on the night of the crash.
“Either way, justice caught up to him,” Fernandez said. “He won’t harm anyone else.”