SAN FRANCISCO — The limousine that burst into flames Saturday night on the San Mateo Bridge, killing five female passengers on their way to a wedding shower party, was carrying more people than the law allowed, the California Highway Patrol said Monday, adding that it did not know if this contributed to the outcome.
The Lincoln Town Car stretch limousine was authorized to carry no more than eight passengers, Officer Art Montiel, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol, said. There were nine in the vehicle, plus a driver.
The nine women, all believed to be nurses, were in the back of the limousine for a festive night out. The bride, whose wedding was being celebrated, is among the dead. The four surviving passengers climbed through the open partition separating them from the driver and escaped, and two remained in serious condition.
The San Mateo Bridge spans San Francisco Bay, connecting the East Bay to the San Francisco peninsula. The limousine was crossing the bridge Saturday when the women knocked on the glass partition, alerting the driver to smoke filling the passenger compartment.
The driver, Orville Brown, pulled to a stop, but by then the rear of the limousine was engulfed in flames. Brown escaped.
Firefighters arrived within minutes and put out the fire, but found five bodies huddled near the partition.
The women were celebrating the recent wedding of Neriza Fojas, one of the victims, said Jack Chubb, CEO of the Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, where Fojas and another victim, Michelle Estrera, worked.
The San Mateo County Medical Examiner's office would not release names of the dead until completing the autopsies.
Four survivors were being treated at hospitals. They were identified as Jasmine Desguia, 34, of San Jose; Mary Guardiano, 42, of Alameda; Nelia Arrellano, 36, of Oakland; and Amalia Loyola, 48, of San Leandro.
The 28-foot limousine was owned by Limo Stop of San Jose. "It's a very sad moment for my family and for the people who lost their lives in one of our limos. I have a deep feeling in the bottom of my heart," said Kultar Singh, who owns Limo Stop. He referred all queries to his lawyer, who was unavailable for comment.
The limo was built in 1999, which places it "on the extremely old side," said Cabot Smith, president of Royale Limousine Manufacturers of Haverhill, Mass., which has been building stretch limousines for 30 years.