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Published: Monday, 8/19/2013

California troopers to release report on deadly limo fire

ASSOCIATED PRESS
San Mateo County firefighters and California Highway Patrol personnel investigate the scene of a limousine fire on the westbound side of the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge in Foster City, Calif., that killed five people on May 4. San Mateo County firefighters and California Highway Patrol personnel investigate the scene of a limousine fire on the westbound side of the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge in Foster City, Calif., that killed five people on May 4.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — The California Highway Patrol today planned to release conclusions of its investigation into a limousine fire that killed five nurses who became trapped in the back.

The blaze broke out on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge on May 4 while a nurse, Neriza Fojas, was celebrating her recent wedding with a group of friends.

Fojas and four others were trapped in the burning limo and died at the scene.

Four other friends inside the limo and the limo driver survived.

Authorities reviewed video and photos of the fire and interviewed survivors, including the limo driver, Orville Brown, who’s said he helped survivors escape through a partition between the vehicle’s front seats and the passenger area.

The CHP said it will release the results of its investigation and recordings of 911 calls during a scheduled news conference later today.

Brown, 46, of San Jose, said at first he misunderstood what one of the passengers in the back of the 1999 Lincoln Town Car was saying when she knocked on the partition window.

With the music turned up, Brown said he initially thought the woman was asking if she could smoke. Seconds later, he said, the women knocked again, this time screaming, “Smoke, smoke!” and “Pull over.”

Brown said he helped the four survivors escape through the partition. One of women ran around to a rear passenger door but by then the vehicle was engulfed in flames.

One of the survivors, a sobbing Nelia Arellano, told KGO-TV a few days after the fire that Brown “didn’t do anything” to help the women escape the car. In a May 7 interview, Arellano told NBC Bay Area that Brown was on the phone.

Brown’s brother, Lewis Brown, an attorney based in Vallejo, denied the accusations to NBC Bay Area.

The state Public Utilities Commission had authorized the vehicle to carry eight or fewer passengers, but it had nine on the night of the fire.

Aerial video shot after the incident showed about one-third of the back half of the limousine scorched by the fire. Its taillights and bumper were gone and it appeared to be resting on its rims, but the remainder of the vehicle didn’t appear to be damaged.



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