Limo Driver, Survivor Shaken By Tragic Event

by Joseph G. Lariosa

CHICAGO (FAXX/jGLi) – A part-time Filipino American limousine driver in the Bay Area, whose brother owns a limousine service, said Monday (May 6) the driver of a limousine, which caught fire that killed five Filipino women, should have familiarized his passengers first of the presence of fire extinguisher and telephone hotline inside the limousine before taking them to their destination.A small fire extinguisher is usually located at the right side of the limo near the rear if the passenger is facing the front of the limo.

The same driver, who refused to be identified said, the passengers should have also been told by the limo driver that in case they wanted to talk to the limo driver, they could just have picked up the receiver of the telephone that is located just in front of the fire extinguisher by the mini bar. The telephone is a hotline of the passengers to the limousine driver.

Had the eight Filipino passengers been given these precautions, it could have prevented, if not minimized, the death of five Filipinos, mostly nurses, and critical injuries to four others last Saturday (May 4) night on board a white Lincoln Town Car Limousine, which caught fire at San Mateo-Hayward Bridge in Redwood City, California.

One of the passengers of the stretch 1999 white Lincoln Towncar Limousine was screaming “Stop the car? Stop the car” while tapping the partition separating them from the limo driver while the smoke was billowing from the limousine floor. “There is smoke, and the fire is coming out.”

MUSIC DROWNS OUT PLEA

While the music was drowning out the plea of Nelia Arellano, limo driver Orville “Ricky” Brown thought Arellano was asking him if she could smoke a cigarette in the limo, which is against his limo company’s policy.

Because his GPS instrument was telling him that the limo was four minutes away from the destination at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Foster City, Brown ignored the plea, saying, “We’ll be there soon.”

Arellano, 36, of Oakland, California, was choking back tears as she told ABC7 News that while the rear end of the limousine was engulfed by fire, she squeezed her head out of the compartment, screaming, “help me,” she said.

Three others followed Arellano out of the compartment and survived. While the bride, Neriza Fojas, 31, a registered nurse, and four others, including Michelle Estrera, also a nurse, were found dead next to the window partition helplessly following Arellano’s escape route.

When Brown realized the situation a minute-and-a-half after Arellano called out “smoke,” he stopped by the side of the bridge. During that time, fire was already engulfing the passenger compartment.

Brown told CNN that “it happened fast, it was engulfed so fast,” while he escaped unharmed. “It burned, burned and burned.”

When he got out of the car, he panicked. It took him “five minutes” to dial 9-1-1, although he could have called his company to dial 9-1-1 for him. “I’m trying to call 9-1-1 on my phone, and I’m shaking. It wouldn’t dial.”

“HE JUST GOT OUT OF THE CAR”

Arellano told ABC7 of Brown’s demeanor: “When he stopped the car, he got out from the car. He just got out from the car.”

While Arellano struggled to get out of the car, she called out him for help. “He just opened the door, that’s all he did,” she said, “I even asked him, ‘help me, help me.”

When she got out, another passenger followed her but the third had a hard time, screaming, “I’m stuck.” Arellano said she tried to pull her out.

Brown also said he also pulled the woman out.

Police are still investigating why the passenger door at the rear would not open. But when a motorist, who stopped to help, pulled the back door to free the passengers, he was met by flames. “There were flames everywhere,” Brown said, “It was too late.”

After pulling her friend Jasmine De Guia out, Arellano tried to rescue others. But the car was already engulfed with smoke. And a motorist stopped her. She cried, saying, “I wish I could pull all of them out.”

Fojas had recently wed and was planning to have another wedding ceremony in the Philippines next month.

Aside from Arellano and De Guia, 34, of San Jose, California, the others who survived were Mary Grace Guardiano, 42, of Alameda, California, and Amalia Loyola, 48, of San Leandro, California. De Guia and Loyola were upgraded to serious condition Monday at Valley Medical Center.

The three others, who died, remain identified, pending notification of kin.

HOSPITAL EMPLOYER MOURNS DEATH OF FOJAS, ESTRERA

Jack Chubb, CEO and ​Karen Buckley, CNO, of Community Regional Medical Center at Fresno, California, said,  “It is with great sadness that we learned two of our Community Regional family members have passed away in a tragic limousine fire late Saturday night in the San Francisco area. Both nurses worked on 2East/2Central trauma medical/surgical floor – one on the day shift and one on the night shift.

“Neriza Fojas and Michelle Estrera were exemplary nurses who dedicated their lives to helping others. These two outstanding nurses were loved by their patients, colleagues and staff at our hospital. Both were good friends, stellar nurses and excellent mentors who served as preceptors to new nurses.

“On behalf of everyone at Community Regional, we offer our condolences to their family and friends. We will dearly miss these two special people who have touched our lives during their time at Community Regional.

“Community Regional will have a memorial service where employees may honor their two colleagues and several remembrance events will be held during the week so employees may participate.

“This horrible accident was a tragic event for so many people and our thoughts and prayers go out to all the nurses involved in the fire and their family and friends.”

Brown of San Jose, California started working at Limo Stop, Inc. two months ago. Limo Stop is owned by Kultar Singh of San Jose, California. Mr. Singh said, “We are saddened by this horrific event that took the lives of five people, and it happened in one of our cars.”

At the press conference at the California Highway Patrol office in Redwood City Monday morning attended by Michael Keefe, Chief, Foster City Fire Department and John Mapes, Foster City Fire Department Investigator, Mike Maskarich, Commander of Redwood City, CHP, said Brown might have violated the California Public Utilities Commission as it authorized Limo Stop, Inc., owner of the limo driven by Brown, to carry eight or fewer passengers. Brown had nine passengers during the fire.

 

Investigation is underway whether overcapacity played a role in the fire.Commission spokesman Terrie Prosper said willful misrepresentation of the seating capacity could mean a penalty for Limo Stop for $7,500 per violation.Although the Commission does not require limousines to have fire extinguishers, the Saturday night fire might prompt it to reconsider installation of fire extinguishers in every limo.

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Photocaptions:

TWO FATAL VICTIMS: Michelle Estrera, left, and Neriza Fojas were among those killed in the fire Saturday night. (Community Regional Medical Center / May 6, 2013)

MEDIA INTERVIEW:  PIO Officer Art Montiel of the California Highway Patrol of the Golden Gate Division is shown being interviewed by the media during the press conference Monday (May 6) morning at the CHP office in Redwood City. He told Fil Am Extra Exchange over the phone that it will probably take another couple of weeks before the cause of the fire at the Lincoln Town Car Limousine that killed five Filipino nurses would be established. (Photo Courtesy of CHP Golden Gate Media Gallery).

 

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