REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — The estranged wife of the Northern California limousine driver who was behind the wheel when a fire in the vehicle killed five women celebrating a wedding said he had been arguing with her on the phone moments before the blaze, according to a newspaper report Sunday.
Rachel "Raquel" Hernandez-Brown told the San Jose Mercury News that during their shouting match, Orville Brown turned up the music in the limo so his passengers couldn't hear the tense conversation.
"The music was really loud. And I kept yelling, 'I can't hear you. Turn it down,' " Hernandez-Brown told the newspaper. "I said, 'You're not paying attention.' You know, like, get off the phone. Stop calling me."
One of the nine nurses in the vehicle said she banged on the partition to warn the driver that the back of the limo was filling with smoke. Brown told police that he initially misunderstood the warning as a request to smoke a cigarette and kept driving.
The comments were the first by Hernandez-Brown to the media about the vehicle fire on May 4. The couple have four children and separated about a month before the fire on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge.
"We need to follow up on this," Karen Guidotti, chief deputy San Mateo County district attorney, told the newspaper when told of its finding.
California Highway Patrol Capt. Mike Maskarich said Sunday that investigators did interview Hernandez-Brown, but he declined to discuss what she said.
The newspaper reported that authorities are expected to announce the cause of the fire soon, and investigators had focused on friction from the drive shaft.
The nine nurses had hired the 1999 Lincoln Town Car to celebrate the recent wedding of Neriza Fojas, one of the five women who died.