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DUI Case Collapses In Crash That Killed 5 SoCal Family Members

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LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) — An 18-year-old accused of driving drunk in a Nevada crash that killed five California family members was cleared of charges Wednesday after DNA evidence showed his friend was the one driving the SUV.

Jean Ervin Soriano had a blood-alcohol percentage of 0.12 when the SUV rear-ended a van carrying seven people to the Los Angeles area after an Easter weekend visit to a sick relative in Denver.

Soriano 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.

But the investigation later determined that he wasn’t behind the wheel.

Alfred Gomez, 23 — originally thought to be a passenger — was the driver. Nevada Highway Patrol investigators never drew blood from him because they thought he was a passenger, so it’s not known if he had been drinking. Investigators found several beer bottles in the vehicle.

Troopers said Soriano later acknowledged that he was driving. A justice of the peace dismissed the charges, which also included two misdemeanor counts of failure to decrease speed and driving without a license.

The Nevada Highway Patrol said Soriano and Gomez were hurt when their Dodge Durango rear-ended a Chevrolet van carrying a trio of brothers and four other family members back to the Los Angeles area for Easter after visiting a sick relative in Denver.

The van overturned in the desert, killing Genaro Fernandez, 41, of Norwalk; Raudel Fernandez-Avila, 49, and Belen Fernandez, 53, both of Lynwood; and Angela Sandoval, 13, and Leonardo Fernandez-Avila, 45, both of Los Angeles.

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

After Soriano’s arrest, authorities in Orange County, Calif., said that he fled March 1 from a juvenile guidance center in Santa Ana that treats drug and alcohol abusers.

Family members who lost their loved ones  told CBS2′s Brittney Hopper they are looking for an attorney.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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