Teen’s escape from O.C. juvenile center probed after fatal crash

The Orange County Probation Department is investigating how a south Orange County teen escaped one of its juvenile facilities a month before police said he killed five people in a drunk-driving crash in Nevada.

The 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 van filled with family members returning from a trip to Colorado to see a dying relative.


Authorities said they discovered beer bottles in Soriano’s SUV and police said he admitting to 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,” Supervisor Todd Spitzer said.

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 been.”

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

The facility is not guarded, so Soriano could have left fairly easily. Harrison said staffers are trained to immediately call the Juvenile Court when a youth escapes, so an arrest warrant can be issued at once.

Sheriff’s department records show the Orange County Juvenile Court issued a misdemeanor arrest warrant for Soriano on March 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 being held at the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas on $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., about 3 a.m. Saturday on Interstate 15.

The van spun out and flipped, killing five members of a family, including three brothers, and injuring two others. All but two of the van’s occupants were wearing seat belts, according to authorities.

Soriano and his 23-year-old passenger suffered minor injuries. He was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and killing five people and seriously injuring two others. He also was cited for driving without a license.


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