Criminal charges have been dropped against a teenager who told police he was driving drunk when his SUV slammed into a minivan on a Nevada highway, killing five members of a Southern California family.
The case against Jean Soriano, 18, was dismissed Wednesday after DNA evidence indicated Soriano was a passenger in the SUV and another person was driving it when the March 30 crash took place on Interstate 15 at the Nevada-Arizona border.
The only other person with Soriano in the 1999 Dodge Durango, which contained several beers, was Alfred Gomez. Authorities said he was not tested for drugs or alcohol at the scene.
"He had intimidated or coerced Soriano into confessing, and when authorities arrived at the scene, Soriano was silent and Gomez did most of the talking," said Soriano's lawyer, Frank Cofer.
"One of the family members trapped in the van heard two male voices arguing, one saying, 'I wasn't the driver,' and the other one angrily saying, 'Yes you were,'" Cofer added.
DNA evidence presented at a hearing in Clark County, Nev., on Wednesday showed that blood found on the passenger side window and console belonged to Soriano, Cofer said. A shoe print on the driver side door, which was kicked open after the crash, was not a match for Soriano, nor was the blood that was found on the steering wheel.
Cofer said Gomez attempted to take the car out of the pound, but the judge had set a hold on it, allowing for the DNA testing to take place.
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The prosecutor in the case said the investigation was ongoing.
Soriano was ordered to be released. He spent close to 100 days behind bars and faced up to 140 years in prison if convicted, Cofer said.
"He's a very subdued, timid kid," Cofer said. "He was clearly relieved. His family was overjoyed."
However, Soriano is still in legal trouble in California after allegedly escaping from a youth probation center in Orange County.
The family members who died in the crash were identified as Genaro Fernandez, 41; Raudel Fernandez-Avila, 49; Belen Fernandez, 53; Angela Sandoval, 13; and Leonardo Fernandez-Avila, 45.
The family was returning from a week-long trip to visit a dying relative in Colorado, family members said.
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