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Nevada DUI crash case dismissed after DNA evidence testimony

(Left) The scene of a car crash involving a Los Angeles-area family is shown in this photo taken Saturday, March 30, 2013. (Right) Jean Soriano, 18, appears in a booking photo. Soriano was booked for suspicion of driving under the influence in connection with that crash.
July 11, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
An 18-year-old has been cleared of charges that he was driving drunk in a Nevada car crash that left five California family members dead.

This comes after a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper testified that DNA evidence showed that the teen's friend was the one driving the car that caused the wreck.

A judge on Wednesday dismissed all charges against Jean Ervin Soriano, who told troopers that he was the driver of the SUV that rear-ended a van carrying seven people home to the Los Angeles area in March after an Easter weekend visit to a sick relative in Denver.

Soriano's friend was injured in the crash and hospitalized, so his blood was never tested for alcohol. Blood tests showed Soriano had a blood-alcohol percentage of 0.12 at the time of the crash.

Soriano's lawyer said that his client was intimidated by his friend, Alfred Gomez, 23, of St. George, Utah, into saying he was the driver.

It's not clear if Gomez will be arrested or face charges.

Outside the courtroom, the prosecutor in the case said that the investigation was ongoing and it was possible the driver could still face felony vehicular manslaughter or the more serious DUI causing serious bodily injury or death charge.

Relatives of the five people killed and two people injured in the crash stood stunned in the courtroom after Justice of the Peace Ruth Kolhoss ordered Soriano freed.

Soriano, who had been jailed on $3.5 million bail, wasn't released immediately but remained in custody for the 50-mile trip from court back to Las Vegas for processing and release from the Clark County jail.

The crash killed Genaro Fernandez, 42, of Norwalk; Maria Belen Fernandez, 53, of Lynwood; and Raudel Fernandez-Avila, 49, Angela Sandoval, 13, and Leonardo Fernandez-Avila, 45, of East Los Angeles.

The driver of the van, Maria Rosario Cardanas, 40, and a 15-year-old passenger, Eddie Sandoval, were the only survivors.

Soriano had faced seven felony charges of driving under the influence causing death or substantial injury in the pre-dawn crash March 30 on Interstate 15 about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. If convicted, he would have faced a mandatory two to 20 years in state prison without probation on each charge.

Trooper Robert Lynn, the lead investigator in the case, testified that DNA evidence, a footprint on the driver's door and blood drops on the passenger window, showed that Soriano could not have been behind the wheel of the Dodge Durango SUV, which ended up on its roof after the crash.

The crash report said the Durango was traveling faster than 105 mph on the 75 mph freeway before it veered sharply and collided with the slower-moving van. Troopers found open and unopened beer bottles in the vehicle. Soriano told troopers at the scene that he had "too many" beers before the crash. Rutledge said it was unlikely that Soriano would face an obstruction charge in the case.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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