SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A limousine taking nine women to a night on the town to celebrate a newlywed bride erupted in flames, killing five of the passengers who were trapped inside as the other four escaped with burn and smoke inhalation injuries, authorities said Sunday. Relatives said the bride was among the dead.
The driver, who was not hurt, told investigators he was driving the women on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge Saturday night when one of them complained of smoke inside the passenger compartment, San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said.
He said he pulled over, got out, and saw the back of the 1999 Lincoln Town Car fully engulfed in flames, Foucrault said.
By the time firefighters rushed to the scene and put out the fire, authorities found five badly burned bodies huddled near the partition that separates the driver from the passengers.
"My guess would be they were trying to get away from the fire and use that window opening as an escape route," Foucrault said.
He said other motorists helped three women get out of the rear right door, and a fourth woman managed to squeeze through the partition.
The San Mateo Fire Department was investigating the cause of the fire, while the coroner's office was working with the California Highway Patrol to determine whether a crime occurred.
"We don't believe there is," 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 repeat her marriage vows in the Philippines next month.
A photo taken by a witness and broadcast on KTVU-TV showed flames shooting from the back of the limo.
Aerial video shot after the incident showed about one-third of the back half of the limousine had been scorched by the fire. 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.
The driver — 46-year-old Orville Brown of San Jose — was the only person to escape unhurt.
Brown's brother told the Chronicle the flames spread before he could help the women escape.
"He tried to get everybody out," Lewis Brown Jr. said. "He told me, 'Man, it was so fast.' He said, 'I've never seen anything like it in my life.'"
Autopsies of the five women were being conducted, and medical examiners will try to identify them by using dental records, Foucrault said.
The four other women who escaped the fire, Mary G. Guardiano, 42, of Alameda,; Jasmine Desguia, 34, of San Jose; Nelia Arrellano, 36, of Oakland; and Amalia Loyola, 48, of San Leandro, were being treated at nearby hospitals, the CHP said.
Desguia and Loyola were listed in critical condition, said Joy Alexiou, a spokeswoman for Valley Medical Center. The condition of Arrellano, who was taken to another hospital, was not known.
The company that operated the limo was identified as Limo Stop, which offers service through limousines, vans and SUVS.
A telephone message left at the company seeking comment by The Associated Press wasn't immediately returned. Attempts to reach the driver were also unsuccessful.