Investigators on Monday were seeking the cause of a fire that engulfed a stretch limousine, killing five passengers and injuring four other people, as the vehicle was traveling across a bridge in the San Francisco area over the weekend.
All the victims were nurses, out celebrating with bride Neriza Fojas, who was among those killed, according to local media.
The limo was carrying the nine women late on Saturday night when the driver saw smoke coming from the back of the vehicle, police said.
The driver pulled over on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, but the limousine suddenly burst into flames, trapping five passengers inside, California Highway Patrol said.
Unable to get out the rear doors of the vehicle, the women were trying to squeeze through the window to the driver’s seat, local media reported.
According to the Los Angeles Times, two of the surviving passengers — Jasmin de Guia, 34, of San Jose and Amalia Loyola, 48, of San Leandro — were taken to a nearby medical center, where they were treated for smoke inhalation and burns. Both were in critical condition. The other two passengers — Nelia Arellano, 36, of Oakland and Mary Grace Guardiano, 42, of Alameda — were also taken to a hospital and treated for burns and smoke inhalation, authorities said.
“This is one of the most horrific things I’ve seen in 21 years with this office,” San Mateo County’s medical examiner, Robert Foucrault, said told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Looking at it, they were on top of each other and doing what they could to get out.”
The California Highway Patrol was investigating the cause of the fire. It did not appear to have been a collision, the Patrol said.
Newlywed among the victims
The 31-year-old bride was a registered nurse who worked in Fresno, California, the newspaper said. She was newly married in the United States but was planning to travel to her native Philippines next month for another wedding ceremony, her family told the newspaper.
She and her friends in the limo were heading to a bridal celebration at a hotel in Foster City, California, where her husband was waiting for them to arrive, the newspaper said.
According to the Los Angeles Times, a limousine driver with LimoStop Inc. picked up the women in Oakland and was going to drop them off about 40 miles away at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Foster City. According to the CHP report, the limo was traveling westbound on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge.
But as the white 1999 Lincoln Town Car crossed the bridge, the passengers noticed smoke coming from the back of the vehicle, Foucrault told the Los Angeles Times. They alerted the driver, who pulled over.
“It was almost impossible for them to get out as the fire was moving so fast,” Foucrault said.
The limousine driver, Orville Brown, 46, of San Jose, was not injured, but the incident left him “pretty distraught,” Foucrault said.
The limousine company issued a statement Sunday saying that it was “deeply saddened” by the deaths.
“LimoStop Inc. will do everything possible to investigate and assist authorities in determining the cause of this fire in order to help bring forth answers and provide closure to the victims and their families,” the statement said.