DUI suspect pleads not guilty in Nevada crash that killed 5

Escorted by Las Vegas Metro Police officers, Jean Ervin Soriano steps out of a van upon arriving at Moapa District Court on Wednesday to appear on charges of drunk driving and causing a crash that killed five members of a Southern California family on a Nevada freeway last month.
(Julie Jacobson / Associated Press)

The Orange County teenager accused of killing five members of a family while driving drunk in Nevada on Easter weekend has pleaded not guilty.

Jean Soriano, 18, remains in custody on $3.5-million bail following his arraignment Wednesday.

Ben Durham of Cofer & Geller LLP, the law firm hired by Soriano’s family, said a preliminary hearing has been scheduled for May 15.


Soriano was driving a Dodge Durango on Interstate 15, about 30 miles south of Mesquite, about 3 a.m. March 30 when he rear-ended a van, according to Loy Hixson of the Nevada Highway Patrol.

The vehicle, carrying seven members of a family, spun around and overturned, ejecting five people.

Maria Cardenas, 40, and her son Eddie Sandoval, 15, were the van’s only survivors. They were released from the hospital last week, Hixson said.

The two were part of a group headed home from Denver, where they had visited Cardenas’ boyfriend’s father, Elijia Fernandez Sr., who is ill.

Cardenas’ 13-year-old daughter, Angela, was killed in the crash, as was Cardenas’ boyfriend, Leonardo Fernandez-Avila, and his brothers Genaro and Raudel. Maria Belen Fernandez, Raudel’s wife, was also killed.

Soriano reportedly escaped from the Youth Guidance Center in Santa Ana on March 1, and authorities did not find him until the crash.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors is demanding more information about how the probation department handled the case and whether more could have been done to capture Soriano.

A warrant for his arrest was issued March 8 in Orange County. Because Soriano was a juvenile when a court sent him to the center, records about what prompted his sentence were sealed.

Though the reason for Soriano’s stay at the facility is unclear, DMV and county criminal records show some of his past brushes with the law.

In 2009, when Soriano was 14, he was cited for injuring or tampering with a vehicle or its contents, according to DMV records.

In 2010, two weeks before his 16thbirthday, he was cited for vandalism and graffiti in association with a street gang, DMV records show.

He was cited in 2011 for possessing tobacco or tobacco paraphernalia and riding a bicycle at night without lights, according to Orange County court records.

In the hospital after the crash, Soriano told police he drank “too many” Budweisers before the accident, according to his arrest report. Authorities discovered beer bottles in the Durango he was driving.

Soriano and his 23-year-old passenger suffered minor injuries. He was arrested on seven counts of suspicion of drunk driving and causing death or substantial injury. He also was cited for driving without a license.

Family members of those killed in the crash were stunned to learn that Soriano was wanted 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.”

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,” Fernandez said. “He won’t harm anyone else.”


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