The investigating agencies are not divulging any theories of how the fire began. But already, limousine attorneys are speculating. Attorney Michael P. Ehline, Esq., of Ehline Law Firm Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC, was interviewed by NBC the day of the limo wreck (See the interview here.)
The events relate that on Saturday night, a limousine carrying nine women burst into flames on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, leaving five women dead. The driver of the limo spoke out on Monday, saying the fire was a nightmare.
Limo driver Orville Brown, age 46, said once he smelled the smoke, it took several seconds to pull off of the roadway, and the limo burst into flames when the women opened the door oxygenating the fire.
Ehline speculates the limo itself probably had deflated or defective airbags, and that could have caused the rear tires to rub inside the wheels wells, igniting a fire right next to the gas tank. (See the video here.) At least one other limo operator believes that the fire could have become started by a cigarette in the rear ashtray that empties into the trunk. If trash hadn’t ignited and people were not smoking, things may have been different here.
Brown picked up the nine women Saturday evening before 10:00 p.m. in Alameda. The women were going to a Foster City bachelorette party. The bachelorette party was a night out for the women. And these were a group of Bay Area nurses wanting to celebrate the wedding of another woman in the Philippines. Neriza Fojas, who married in the U.S., was planning a second ceremony in the Philippines.
Brown said the night started well, with all of the women enjoying the night. But then it turned into horror. Brown said as the limo was traveling over the elevated portion of the bridge, one of the women knocked on the glass partition separating the rear of the limo and said, “smoke.”
The limo driver assumed she was asking if she could smoke a cigarette. He said the company policy prohibits smoking in vehicles. And they were approximately four minutes from their destination when about 30 seconds later, the woman knocked on the partition again. Brown said he saw the anguish on the woman’s face, and then he began smelling and seeing the smoke.
Brown said he immediately stopped the limo, and the glass partition was down, stating the women “attempted to crawl” to safety into the driver’s cab and out of the conveyance. According to the San Mateo County Coroner, first responders located the dead people’s charred remains near the limousine’s partition.
Michael Ehline told local news this was an indication the trapped occupants tried to escape. They were overcome by fire, smoke, and flames. But four of the women were able to make their way through the partition, surviving the limo fire.
According to California Highway Patrol Capt. Mike Maskarich, what transpired is beyond words. And it’s estimated that within a minute, half of the limousine became engulfed in flames. Authorities said that other drivers, including an off-duty California Highway Patrol Sergeant, tried to help. But they were unable to do so.
California Highway Patrol spokesman Ron Simmons said Sunday that it appears from photos the fire started in the limo’s trunk. Still, at this time, it is unknown officially whether the fire started inside of the vehicle or on the exterior.
Brown was with LimoStop Inc. for two months. And the cars get regularly maintained. He said his memory of how the four women got out is hazy.
LimoStop Inc. released a statement they were “deeply saddened” by the deaths. And they will do everything possible to assist the authorities and investigate the cause of the fire to provide answers. Also, they will work to “provide closure for the victims and their families.” One of the victims in the fire was the bride Neriza Fojas, according to her sister-in-law, Lovela Nicolas. Fojas worked at the Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno as a nurse.
Police identified two of the survivors as Jasmine De Guia, age 34, and Amalia Loyola, age 48. But they went to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. The women were treated for burns, smoke inhalation and got listed in critical condition. The survivors took transport to Stanford Medical Center. And there, treatment for smoke inhalation and moderate burns took place.
But their condition is presently unknown. However, authorities later identified the dead bodies as Mary Grace Guardiano, age 42, of Alameda, and Nelia Arellano, age 36, of Oakland. Witness Roxanne Guzman said that she was in her car crossing the bridge at approximately 10:00 p.m., and “the flames were gigantic.” According to San Mateo County Deputy Coroner Roger Fielding, it may take medical examiners at least two days to positively identify the victims.