LOS ANGELES – Authorities in Clark County, Nev., said they were turning their focus toward a second man involved in a fatal crash that killed five members of a Los Angeles-area family after missteps during the investigation forced prosecutors to drop all charges against their original suspect.
“This is unique,” said Brian Rutledge, the Clark County prosecutor who on Wednesday dropped the case against Jean Soriano, 18, who had been charged with multiple counts of felony drunken driving resulting in death.
Last Monday, prosecutors learned that Soriano was not driving a 1999 Dodge SUV that rear-ended a van on Interstate 15 about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas and killed five people.
The Orange County, Calif., native initially told police he had “too many” beers and was driving during the March 30 wreck. Soriano’s lawyer, Frank Cofer of Cofer, Geller & Durham, said his client was “coerced” and “intimidated” to take the blame for the driver, Alfred Gomez, 23.
Gomez downplayed the seriousness of the crash and told Soriano he had a family to take care of so he couldn’t go to jail, Cofer said.
Despite the dropped charges, Soriano still faces prosecution in California for what authorities say was his escape from a juvenile detention facility in Santa Ana in February.
The investigation now turns to Gomez, who was not tested for drugs or alcohol and was released from a hospital the day of the crash.
Blood and injuries to Soriano’s face match evidence found on the passenger side of the vehicle, Cofer said.