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The Journal Gazette

Monday, April 01, 2013 8:09 pm

Family grieves 5 relatives dead in Nevada crash


Belen Fernandez didn't want to go on a weeklong trip to Denver with her husband and his two brothers to visit her ailing father-in-law, but her children eventually persuaded her to go.

"She didn't want to leave her grandkids," her daughter, Griselda Fernandez, recalled Monday, weeping. "But we all told her, you have to go with my dad. My dad needs your help."

It was the last thing Belen Fernandez would do for her family. The 53-year-old mother of six died along with her husband Raudel Fernandez-Avila, 49, his two brothers and a step-niece in a crash north of Las Vegas that authorities say was caused by a drunken driver.

Authorities said the family van was rear-ended around 3 a.m. Saturday by an SUV driven by 18-year-old Jean Ervin Soriano, who was being held Monday on felony drunk driving charges with bail set at $3.5 million bail.

Soriano, who told the judge he lives in St. George, Utah, will be assigned a public defender for his arraignment April 10. He had previously lived in California, but it wasn't immediately clear where.

He was hospitalized for several hours after the crash on Interstate 15 about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas then taken to the Clark County jail, the Nevada Highway Patrol said.

He told the arresting trooper he had "too many" beers before the crash, according to an arrest report made public Monday.

Trooper Loy Hixson said several beer bottles were found in the 1999 Dodge Durango that Soriano said he was driving.

Results of a blood-alcohol test on Soriano were pending, authorities said.

"He basically destroyed a lot of families," Griselda Fernandez said, bursting into tears. "We're no one to criticize or anything. I know that God will somehow punish him."

Belen Fernandez and Raudel Fernandez-Avila had been married for 33 years. Also killed were 41-year-old Genaro Fernandez of Norwalk, and Angela Sandoval, 13, and Leonardo Fernandez-Avila, 45, both of Los Angeles.

Two more people in the van, Eddie Sandoval, 15, and Maria Rosario Cardenas, 40, remained hospitalized Monday at University Medical Center in Las Vegas. Sandoval was in good condition and Cardenas was in fair condition, hospital spokeswoman Danita Cohen said.

The trio of brothers and their family members had been visiting their sick father for a week and were expected home Saturday to prepare for an Easter celebration, said Pablo Fernandez, the youngest son of Raudel Fernandez-Avila and Belen Fernandez.

Pablo Fernandez, who recently moved into his own place, wondered what he would do with his parents gone.

The 19-year-old is studying to become a surgical technician and stopped by every day to check on them, he said.

"We have to be strong, we're going to stay united and take this step by step," he said.

Troopers said most of the passengers in the family's Chevrolet Astro van were thrown from the vehicle as it overturned in the desert.

A truck driver told investigators that he saw Soriano and his passenger walk away from the crash site then return before rescue crews arrived.


Ritter reported from Las Vegas. Associated Press writers Martin Griffith in Reno, Nev., and Gillian Flaccus in Orange County, Calif., contributed to this report.


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