SAN FRANCISCO — They were heading out on what was supposed to be one of the happiest nights of Neriza Fojas' life, a party to cap off the bridal shower she'd been celebrating with eight of her nurse friends. Then the women's stretch limousine headed west over the San Mateo Bridge — and horror erupted.
Just after 10 p.m. Saturday, flames burst out the back of the 1999 Lincoln Town Car. The driver pulled over, and he and four of the women escaped. But the five other passengers, including Fojas, remained trapped.
For unknown reasons, they couldn't get out the rear doors, so they apparently tried to squeeze through a small window into the driver's compartment. Within seconds, the back end was engulfed and it was too late.
Emergency workers found Fojas and four of her friends clustered under the 3-by-11/2-foot window. The women, all in their 30s and 40s, died in the flames.
"This is one of the most horrific things I've seen in 21 years with this office," San Mateo County's medical examiner, Robert Foucrault, said Sunday. "Looking at it, they were on top of each other and doing what they could to get out."
The California Highway Patrol said it was investigating.
Several drivers stopped, but all they could do was help the survivors, Foucrault said. The limousine's driver, Orville Brown, 46, of San Jose, was unhurt, and the four survivors went to area hospitals for treatment of burns and smoke inhalation.
All the women riding in the limo were nurses, Foucrault said.
Fojas, a 31-year-old registered nurse at the Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, had been married recently in the United States, said her sister Rosalyn Bersamin, who lives in Hawaii. The couple were planning to travel to her native Philippines next month and hold another ceremony before her family June 19, Bersamin said.
After partying Saturday evening in the East Bay, Fojas and her friends were headed to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Foster City for her bridal shower.