REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – It has been more than three months since a limousine fire along San Mateo Bridge in the San Francisco Bay Area impacted the lives of nine Filipino women -- five of them were killed and four were injured.
Finally, authorities revealed the findings of their investigation in a press conference yesterday. Officials also released the heart-wrenching recordings of 911 calls made at the scene of the tragedy.
A woman’s voice can be heard talking to the 911 operator: “We need help! We’re in San Mateo Bridge! The car is burning!”
“Hindi ako makaalis! May tao sa likod! (I can’t escape. There is another person at the back!) Oh my, God! Hold on!”, screamed another in despair.
“The doors are locked. I can’t get inside the car,” said a male voice to a 911 operator. “I don’t think there’s anything we can do.”
Among those who were killed were Neriza Fojas, who was celebrating her wedding with friends. Jennifer Balon, Anna Alcantara, Michelle Estrera and Felomina Geronga also lost their lives.
The San Mateo Coroner said all five died of smoke inhalation.
Among the survivors were Jasmin de Guia, Mary Grace Guardiano, Nelia Arellano and Amalia Loyola.
After more than three months of investigation, the California Highway Patrol, Foster City Fire Department, San Mateo Coroner’s Office and the San Mateo District Attorney’s Office revealed their findings.
“After a thorough investigation of the vehicle and an analysis of the business and maintenance records and extensive interviews with witnesses and survivors of this horrific incident, we have concluded that the fire was accidental in nature,” said Mike Maskarich, commander of the Redwood City CHP.
Authorities said the fire was caused by the failure of an air suspension system in the back of the vehicle. This caused the metal pan under the limo’s floorboard to rub against the drive shaft, creating friction — and eventually fire.
Because of the accidental nature of the tragedy, no criminal charges will be filed against the limo driver or his company. But the California Public Utilities Commission is slamming the limo operator $7,500 for having more passengers than allowed in the limo.
“Based on our findings, we have and will continue to be available to work with lawmakers and industry leaders to recommend future safety advances in limousines, including drivers safety, checklist and training, fire extinguisher requirements, secondary exiting, pop-out window, sunroof, breakout tools, or retrofitting to existing vehicles,” said Michael Keefe, chief of the Foster City Fire Department.
Balitang America tried to get the reaction of the victims and their families. They have yet to respond.
Spencer Lucas, a personal injury attorney from the firm, Panish Shea & Boyle represents majority of the victims and their families. He said they prefer not to talk to the media at this time.
Lucas revealed that his clients are thankful for the thorough investigation that was conducted by the authorities.
But he said they plan to conduct their own investigation. “We’re moving very rapidly to obtain possession of the the limousine so our team of experts can take a closer look at what the CHP has found in this case.”
While it appears that the CHP is focused on the catastrophic failure of the car suspension system of the vehicle, he said, “Our focus will be on that, in addition to other areas pertaining to the design and safety of the vehicle.”
Lucas said they are also in the process of filing a civil case against the limousine company and the driver and any other defendants that they determine to be responsible for this tragedy.