MOAPA, Nev. (AP) — An 18-year-old was cleared Wednesday of charges the he was driving drunk in a Nevada crash that killed five California family members, after a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper testified that DNA evidence showed his friend was the one driving the SUV that caused the wreck.
A judge dismissed all charges against Jean Ervin Soriano, who had told troopers he was the driver of the SUV that rear-ended a van carrying seven people home to the Los Angeles area early March 30 after an Easter weekend visit to a sick relative in Denver.
Blood tests showed Soriano had a blood-alcohol percentage of 0.12 at the time of the crash.
Soriano's lawyer, Frank Cofer, said Wednesday that Soriano was intimidated by the other man, Alfred Gomez, 23, of St. George, Utah, into saying he was the driver.
Gomez, who was injured in the crash and hospitalized, wasn't tested for blood alcohol. It was not immediately clear if he will face arrest or charges.
Prosecutor Brian Rutledge said outside court 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.
But Gomez wasn't in custody, and Rutledge said he didn't know if he was still living in St. George, had returned to Southern California, or had moved somewhere else.
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson was out of town Wednesday and unavailable for comment.
Three relatives of the five people killed and two people injured in the crash stood stunned in the rural courtroom 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas after Justice of the Peace Ruth Kolhoss ordered Soriano freed.
Pablo Fernandez, 19, of Lynwood, Calif., declined immediate comment on their behalf.
Trooper Robert Lynn, the lead investigator in the case, also declined comment.
Soriano, who had been jailed on $3.5 million bail, wasn't released immediately but remained in custody for the 50-mile trip back to Las Vegas for processing and release from the Clark County jail.
He kept his head bowed and said nothing as he sat in chains at the defense table. His parents and an aunt were in the courtroom and expressed relief afterward.
"We're really happy. Finally he's not guilty," said the aunt, Nelly Ciprian, 28, of St. George, Utah. "The lawyers provided the proof and the evidence."