Officials said they were stunned by the loss of life after a limousine burst into flames Saturday night on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, leaving five women dead.
“Any time we have a significant loss of life it's very difficult, but given the particular nature of what's transpired, it's just beyond words,” California Highway Patrol Capt. Mike Maskarich said Monday.
The driver of the limo also spoke out Monday, calling the fire a "nightmare."
“Everything happened so fast,” LimoStop Inc. driver Orville Brown, 46, told CNN in an interview Monday afternoon.
“It was just a nightmare. It was something I would never imagine would happen.”
What was supposed to be a girl’s night out for a group of Bay Area nurses celebrating one of the women’s upcoming wedding in the Philippines turned into a night of horror and grief when the limo they were riding in inexplicably caught fire, trapping all inside while on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge.
The driver and four passengers managed to escape. Five others, including the bride, did not.
Brown said the night started out well when he picked up the group in Alameda to take them to a party.
“Everybody was joyous,” Brown said. “Beautiful ladies, beautiful occasion.”
The women were celebrating the wedding of Neriza Fojas, who, though already married, was planning a second ceremony in the Philippines with her husband.
But as the limo drove west over the elevated portion of the bridge, Brown said he heard a knock on the glass partition separating the rear of the limo from the front where he sits.
The woman said “smoke,” Brown said. He said he assumed she was asking if she could smoke a cigarette in the limo. He said they were about four minutes from their destination and the company’s policy prohibits smoking inside the car.
About 30 seconds later, he said the woman knocked again.
“I just saw the anguish, grief on her face,” Brown said. “I started smelling smoke and started seeing smoke.”
Brown said he immediately stopped the car. By then, the glass partition was down and the women were trying to crawl through it to safety. A San Mateo County coroner's official said the five victims were found near the partition, indicating they tried to escape that way before being overcome by smoke and flames.
Brown estimated that two women made it out of the car that way. He said one of them opened the rear door to let her friends out and that’s when the flames engulfed the rear.
“It was horrific,” he said.
Within a minute, the rear half of the limousine was completely on fire. Authorities said other drivers, including an off-duty California Highway Patrol sergeant, tried to help get the passengers out but to no avail. Brown said his memory was foggy on how all the survivors escaped.
The limo company’s vehicles are regularly maintained, Brown said. He said he’s been with the company for two months.
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. They were being treated for smoke inhalation and burns and were listed in critical condition.
Two other passengers -- Nelia Arellano, 36, of Oakland, and Mary Grace Guardiano, 42, of Alameda -- were taken to Stanford Medical Center. They were treated for moderate burns and smoke inhalation, authorities said. Their conditions are unknown.
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