Limo terror: 'It spread so fast'

2013-05-07 13:35

REDWOOD CITY, California - First came the tapping. Over the blasting music, limousine driver Orville Brown heard somebody in the back seat knock on the partition saying something about smoke. "No smoking allowed," he told the group of partying women, including a newly-wed from the Philippines.

Then the taps in the 1999 Lincoln Town Car turned to urgent knocks and someone screamed "Smoke! Smoke!" and "Pull over!"

On Monday (May 6), Wheels24 reported on a horror limo blaze in which five women were killed.

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In just a few fleeting moments, five of the women celebrating a girls' night out were dead in the flames that overtook the luxury car with terrifying speed. As smoke thickened in the cabin Brown pulled the white stretch limo to a stop on a bridge over San Francisco Bay and started pulling women out through the partition that separated him from his passengers.

Three good Samaritans, including a firefighter, stopped to help. The first woman who got out ran to the back and yanked open a door but Brown said it was already too late.

"I knew it wasn't a good scene," he said. "I figured with all that fire that they were gone, man. There were just so many flames. Within maybe 90 seconds the car was engulfed."


From the first tap on the window until the rear of the car became an inferno couldn't have taken more than three minutes, Brown told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Authorities searched for answers, hoping to learn what sparked the blaze and why five of the passengers could not escape the fast-spreading flames.

The women who died in the Saturday night (May 3) blaze were found pressed up against the 90cm x 45cm partition, apparently because smoke and fire kept them from the rear exits of the extended passenger cabin. San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said: "The position of the bodies suggested they were trying to get away from the fire."

The women were celebrating the wedding of a newly wed friend, Neriza Fojas. She was among the dead; she and another of the fatalities, Michelle Estrera, were nurses at Community Regional Medical Centre in Fresno. The other three victims had not been identified.

In the Philippines, Neriza Fojas' mother Sonya, burst into tears during an interview with local TV network GMA News in northern Tarlac province, where the family lives. The news report said she learned of the tragedy from the news media. "How painful, how painful what happened."

US ambassador Harry Thomas expressed condolences to the Fojas family in a Twitter message.


The medical centre's CEO Jack Chubb said in a statement that Fojas and Estrera were outstanding nurses, loved by their patients, colleagues and staff. "They were good friends, stellar nurses and excellent mentors who served as preceptors to new nurses. We'll dearly miss these two special people who have touched our lives."

A relative of Fojas, Christina Kitts, said the young nurse was preparing to get a master's degree and was planning a large second wedding in the Philippines. She's  lived in Hawaii while she worked towards her nursing exam, then took a job in Oakland for two years before moving to Fresno, where she had been a nurse at the medical Centre for a year.

Three survivors were identified as Jasmine Desguia (34) of San Jose; Mary Guardiano (42) of Alameda; and Amalia Loyola (48) of San Leandro. Nelia Arellano (36) of Oakland, who was treated and released, told KGO-TV about the terrifying events. With a cut visible on her face, an emotional Arellano said she yelled at the driver to stop the car, but he "didn't want to listen".


When Brown finally did stop, Arellano says he did nothing to help the women get out of the burning car after he exited.

Brown told KGO that at first he misunderstood what one of the passengers was saying when she knocked on the partition and talked about smoke. And when the panicked woman knocked a second time and yelled at him to stop, he said he pulled over and all four survivors escaped through the partition. But he said the passenger compartment was quickly engulfed in flames.

Brown said: "It spread so fast."

California Highway Patrol Commander Mike Maskarich said the state Public Utilities Commission had authorised the vehicle to carry eight or fewer passengers but it had nine on the night of the deadly fire.

US department of transportation data shows five people died in three stretch limo accidents in 2010 and 21 in another three stretch limo accidents in 2011.


  • benjaminmotto - 2013-05-08 04:02

    Very sad may their souls RIP

  • Ernesto Cuesy - 2013-05-08 07:42

    Few years ago I also saw one of those old Frankenstein-like limos on fire on William Nicol.

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