Mechanical problem cause of deadly California limo fire

The California Highway Patrol says the deadly limo fire broke out on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge on May 4 because of a catastrophic failure of the rear suspension system. Authorities say no charges will be filed.

Roxana and Carlos Guzman/AP/File
This frame grab taken from video provided by Roxana and Carlos Guzman shows a limo on fire Saturday, May 4, 2013, on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge in San Francisco. A mechanical problem is to blame for igniting the limousine fire that killed five nurses celebrating a Filipina colleague's wedding.

A mechanical problem is to blame for igniting a limousine fire that killed five nurses celebrating a Filipina colleague's wedding, the California Highway Patrol said Monday.

CHP Captain Mike Maskarich says the blaze broke out on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge on May 4 because of a catastrophic failure of the rear suspension system. The suspension fell onto the floor pan causing friction that ignited carpets and set the vehicle on fire, authorities said.

Authorities say no charges will be filed. The Public Utilities Commission is fining the limo operator $1,500 for having more passengers than allowed.

The fire broke out while a nurse, Neriza Fojas, was celebrating her recent wedding with a group of friends.

She was among the five killed. 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.

Brown, 46, 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.

Authorities said they reviewed Brown's telephone records and that he was not on the phone during the accident.

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 a 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.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.