SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Investigators are trying to determine why a stretch limousine burst into flames on a San Francisco Bay bridge and trap five of the nine women inside on a girls’ night out, including a newlywed bride.
It happened late Saturday night as the Lincoln Town Car crossed the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge on the south end of the bay.
One of the women complained to driver Orville Brown about smoke, and by the time he pulled over and got out, the back of the limo was engulfed. The bride and eight friends were still inside, but passersby quickly pulled three to safety, though two were in critical condition Monday. One woman managed to squeeze through the partition between the passenger section and the driver’s compartment, Brown told authorities.
But five others, including the bride whose marriage they were celebrating, became trapped.
The five were found dead as firefighters doused the vehicle — all huddled near the partition, apparently unable to squeeze through.
“My guess would be they were trying to get away from the fire and use that window opening as an escape route,” said San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault, who also relayed some of the comments the driver made to investigators.
The San Mateo Fire Department was looking into the cause of the fire, while the coroner’s office was working with the California Highway Patrol to determine if anything criminal occurred.
“We don’t believe there” was, Foucrault said.
Relatives told the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News that one of the dead was Neriza Fojas, 31, a registered nurse from Fresno who recently wed and was planning to travel to her native Philippines to hold another ceremony before family. Her friends in the limousine were fellow nurses.
Brown, 46, of San Jose, told investigators he picked the women up in Oakland and was taking them across the bridge to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Foster City. Fojas’ sister, Rosalyn Bersamin, told the Chronicle that after a night out on the town, Fojas and her friends were heading to the hotel to party with her new husband.
“She was a hard worker, a loving sister,” a sobbing Bersamin said.
Aerial video shot after the fire showed about one-third of the back half of the limousine had been scorched. Its taillights and bumper were gone and it appeared to be resting on its rims, but the remainder of the vehicle didn’t appear to be damaged.