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A party night turns tragic as limousine fire kills 5

Five women die and four are injured as flames engulf the rear of a limousine on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, authorities say.

May 06, 2013|By Angel Jennings and Lee Romney, Los Angeles Times
  • San Mateo County firefighters and California Highway Patrol personnel examine a limousine that was engulfed in flames Saturday night on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge. Five women were killed and four others were injured, two critically. The driver was not hurt.
San Mateo County firefighters and California Highway Patrol personnel… (Jane Tyska, Associated…)

SAN FRANCISCO — The night started out on a high note with nine women, including a newlywed, out celebrating Saturday in the Bay Area.

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.

But as the white 1999 Lincoln Town Car crossed the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, the passengers noticed smoke coming from the back of the vehicle, said San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault. They alerted the driver, who pulled over.

When the driver got out, he saw that the rear of the vehicle was engulfed in flames, Foucrault said. The fire quickly spread, trapping several of the women inside. Three escaped through a passenger door, and a fourth climbed through a partition in front.

The other five women, including newlywed Nerizo Fojas, died.

"It was almost impossible for them to get out as the fire was moving so fast," Foucrault said.

Two of the surviving passengers — Jasmin de Guia, 34, of San Jose and Amalia Loyola, 48, of San Leandro — were taken to Santa Clara Valley 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 taken to Stanford Medical Center. Both were also treated for burns and smoke inhalation, authorities said.

Guardiano's mother, Rosita Guardiano, told a local television station that her daughter and Arellano were "the first to go away from the car" and were not seriously injured.

Arellano lives with her husband and toddler in an apartment building in Oakland.

The building's owner, Ramon Nobela, said Sunday that Arellano works directly across the street at Fruitvale Health Care Center. A center employee said that two of the people killed in the blaze also worked there. De Guia, known as "Jazzy," also worked there as a nurse, her Facebook page shows.

Nobela, 59, said that Fojas, the newlywed, had roomed for a few years with Arellano in an upstairs unit of the five-unit building before Arellano moved downstairs when her husband returned from working abroad.

Fojas always had a ready smile and was "really beautiful," recalled Nobela. He said Arellano is also "very friendly" and said he makes sure to set aside avocados for her when he picks fruit.

Nobela said Arellano's husband had discussed the accident with him Sunday morning and told him that she "will be OK."

The limousine driver, Orville Brown, 46, of San Jose, was unharmed, but the incident left him "pretty distraught," Foucrault said.

The names of the deceased have not officially been released pending proper identification. Foucrault said the victims were badly burned, and that the coroner's office will have to use dental records.

Neighbors identified Fojas as the newlywed.

A 31-year-old registered nurse at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, Fojas had been married recently in the United States and the couple were planning to travel to her native Philippines next month to hold a ceremony for her family, media that spoke with Fojas' family reported.

After celebrating Saturday evening in the East Bay, Fojas and her friends were headed to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Foster City for a bridal shower. According to media reports, her husband was waiting for her at the hotel.

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.

The Foster City Fire Department Arson division is investigating the fire. But authorities warned that it could take days to determine the cause.

"This is not something that gets rushed through," said California Highway Patrol Officer James Evans.

Jennings reported from Los Angeles and Romney from the Bay Area.

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