FOSTER CITY, Calif. – A newlywed bride and four other women are dead after the limousine hired to drive them to a hotel in Foster City, Calif., caught on fire as it was crossing the San Mateo Bridge. Investigators are trying to determine what caused the horrific fire and why it engulfed the back of the car so rapidly, leaving the occupants with mere seconds to attempt an escape.
Driver Orville Brown, 46, was driving the 1999 Lincoln Town Car owned by LimoStop Inc., when he thought he heard one of the nine passengers in the back say over the loud music that she wanted to smoke. A few seconds later, she began banging on the partition screaming “Smoke! Smoke!” and “Pull over!”
“When she opened that back door, I knew it wasn’t a good scene,” Mr. Brown told the Associated Press. “I figured with all that fire that they were gone, man. There were just so many flames. Within maybe 90 seconds, the car was fully engulfed.”
The incident killed newlywed Neriza Fojas, a 31-year-old registered nurse from Fresno who was planning to go to the Philippines to celebrate another ceremony with her family in her native country. She and her nine friends, all nurses, were on their way to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Foster City to meet up with the groom.
Two surviving passengers, identified as Jasmin De Guia, 34, of San Jose, and Amalia Loyola, 48, of San Leandro, were taken to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center where they are being treated for severe burns and smoke inhalation. Both women are listed in critical condition.
Two other surviving passengers, Nelia Arellano, 36, of Oakland, and Mary Grace Guardiano, 42, of Alameda, were taken to Stanford Medical Center to be treated for moderate burns and smoke inhalation. Their conditions were unknown.
One woman squeezed through the partition window and escaped the vehicle. The other three escaped by a back door.
The bodies of the deceased were found close to the partition between the rear of the vehicle and the driver’s seat. Investigators were using dental records to identify them.
Mr. Brown, who was uninjured in the incident, told the Associated Press that he is an experienced commercial driver who had started driving limos for LimoStop about two months ago. He has driven trucks and airport shuttles in the past.
California’s Public Utilities Commission had authorized the limo to carry 8 or fewer passengers, but it had 9 when the fire occurred. Authorities were trying to determine whether overcrowding may have hindered the occupants’ escape from the vehicle or contributed to their deaths in some other way.