A teenaged driver accused of driving under the influence of alcohol and crashing into the back of a van killing five family members on Easter weekend pleaded not guilty in a Las Vegas courthouse Wednesday.
Facing seven felony charges of suspicion of drunk driving and cause death or substantial injury,18 year old Jean Soriano denied his guilt in a crash that took place 30 miles south of the city of Mesquite, Nevada at about 3 a.m. on March 30, where he rear ended a van with his Dodge Durango SUV on Interstate 15. The collision caused the vehicle to veer off the highway and roll, ejecting five of the seven passengers on board.
The van was carrying a family on their way home to California from Colorado, where they had visited a family friend who had fallen ill. 45 year old Leonardo Fernandez-Avila, 13 year old Angela Sandoval, 49 year old Raudel Fernandez-Avila, 53 year old Belen Fernandez, and 41 year old Genaro Fernandez were all killed in the crash. 40 year old Maria Cardenas and her 15 year old son Eddie were the only survivors from the van.
Following the crash, Soriano and his 23 year old passenger were sent to the hospital for treatment, where he reportedly told police that he had had “too many” drinks before getting behind the wheel. Police investigators also found a number of bottles inside his vehicle at the crash site.
Soriano had reportedly escaped from the Youth Guidance Center in Santa Ana, California, on March 1, and had eluded law enforcement until the crash took place. A warrant had been out for his arrest since March 8.
Family members of those killed in the crash were shocked by Soriano’s not guilty plea, as well as his outstanding warrant. “This changes my view about him,” says Elijio Fernandez Jr., who lost three of his 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 also added that he would like police to investigate how Soriano was able to evade police for almost a month. “Either way, justice caught up to him,” he said. “He won’t harm anyone else.”
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