CHICAGO (FAXX/jGLi) – The Coroner of the County of San Mateo released Tuesday (May 7) to the media the list of all the names of the five fatalities on board a bridal limousine that caught fire last Saturday (May 4) night at San Mateo-Hayward Bridge in Redwood City, California.
At the same time, Corner Robert J. Foucrault announced that the cause and manner of the victims’ death are still under investigation pending toxicology results. The coroner’s final report is due in three to four weeks.
In a press release faxed to this reporter, the Coroner’s office said the fatalities are Michelle Estrera, 35, of Fresno; Anna Alcantara, 46, of San Lorenzo; Felomina Geronga, 43, of Alameda; Neriza Pobre Fojas, 31, of Monterey; and Jennifer Balon, 39, of Dublin; all of California. They are all Filipinos and are mostly nurses.
Fojas and Estrera are both trauma medical/surgical nurses of the Community Regional Medical Center at Fresno while Balon and Alcantara are “current and former employees” at Fruitvale Healthcare Center in Oakland.
They were five of the nine passengers, who perished inside the white Lincoln Towncar Limousine that burst into flame as it cruised SR (State Route) 92 Expressway.
Sgt. Diana McDermott, spokesperson of the Golden Gate Division of the California Highway Patrol (CHP), clarified that only the San Mateo County Coroner can confirm the names of the fatalities on the road as the public officer is tasked to investigate by inquest any death thought to be of other than natural causes.
The CHP, however, is responsible for identifying survivors of road mishaps. It earlier identified the four survivors as Jasmin De Guia (also earlier identified as Desguia), 34, of San Jose; Amalia Loyola, 48, of San Leandro; Mary G. Guardiano, 42, of Alameda; and Nelia Arellano, 36, of Oakland; all of California. De Guia and Loyola are still in the Valley Medical Center in fair condition. Arellano has been released but it is not yet known if Guardiano is still in the Stanford Medical Center.
SQUEEZE SELVES IN A SMALL WINDOW
When the Filipino passengers could not open the door of the limousine, Arellano said each one of them all dressed up for the bridal party squeezed thru a 3-foot-by 1 1/2 –foot partition window that led to the limo driver’s front seat whose side door opened.
Arellano earlier screamed to the limousine driver to “stop the car” because there was “smoke” coming from under passengers’ seats.
But the driver, Orville “Ricky” Brown, thought Arellano wanted to smoke a cigarette inside the car, which is prohibited by company’s policy. So, Brown ignored her plea as the destination – Crowne Plaza Hotel in Foster City – was still four minutes away.
It was only a minute-and-half after Arellano’s scream of “smoke” drowned out by music inside the limousine that Brown realized it was not all about a cigarette.
Aside from Arellano, De Guia, Loyola and Guardiano also managed to get out of the car alive. The five others, among them, the bride, Nireza Fojas, were not as lucky as they struggled but failed to get out of the car.
Brown, only two months into his employment as the limo driver, panicked and took five minutes to dial 9-1-1. He also took his time into opening the door for Arellano and for another. He was not able to save the rest, who were trapped in the car.
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.”
LIMO DRIVERS NEED TRAINING
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. Training limo drivers to familiarize its passengers with fire extinguishers and the telephone inside the limo before driving should be a rigid requirement, according to another limo driver.
Fojas’s husband, Carlo Moya, was waiting at the Crowne Plaza Hotel when the limousine caught fire.
Fojas and Moya, who were married in a civil wedding in Las Vegas, Nevada, were set to fly to Manila next month for another wedding (presumably religious ceremony) with their families and relatives in attendance in Tagaytay City, according to Philippines Today U.S.’s Bradford Atkins. It was added that Fojas studied at Tanza National Comprehensive High School in Cavite. She lived with her elder sister, Rosalyn Bersamin, in Pearl City in Hawaii, before moving to Oakland.
Emma Calayan, owner of skin treatment clinic in Milpitas, California, “was saddened to hear” about the death of Fojas, who was receiving continuous skin treatment in her clinic in preparation ahead of her June wedding. Fojas could no longer make it to her appointment with her aesthetician this Saturday (May 11).
Meanwhile, both the Philippine Consulate of San Francisco and U.S. Embassy in the Philippines had conveyed their sympathies and condolences to the families and friends of the Filipina and her bridal parties who lost their lives in the tragic incident. “Ang panalangin para sa mga nasawi at kanilang mga pamilya,” (We are praying for those who died and for their families.), according to the U.S. Embassy statement.
“We call on all kababayans to join us in praying for eternal rest of souls of those who perished in this unfortunate incident, for the welfare of their families and loved ones, and well as for the speedy and full recovery of those who survived,” San Francisco Philippine Consul General Marciano A. Paynor, Jr. said. “We are ready to assist them in whatever way we can.”
NOTHING BUT TEARS: Survivor Nelia Arellano, 36, of Oakland, California, could not hold back her tears when she was interviewed by ABC7 as she managed to save only three of her eight friends from the smoldering 1999 stretch white Lincoln Towncar Limousine as she could no longer rescue five others, including the bride, Neriza Fojas, last Saturday (May 4) night at San Mateo-Hayward Bridge in Redwood City, California. (FAXX/jGLi Photograb from ABC7)
FOUR FATAL VICTIMS: Here’s a photo of four fatalities posted by seattlepi.com from left Michelle Estrera, Jennifer Balon, Neriza P. Fojas and Anna Alcantara before they perish in the limousine they were riding that caught fire on the San Mateo Bridge Saturday night. (Photo Courtesy Of The Balon Family)
Five Filipinos Die Inside Bridal Limo Fire
Limo Driver, Survivor Shaken By Tragic Event