SAN FRANCISCO - Investigators trying to determine why the back of a stretch limousine burst into flames on a San Francisco Bay bridge, trapping and killing five women inside, say the vehicle was carrying too many passengers.
California Highway Patrol Capt. Mike Maskarich said at a news conference on Monday that the vehicle was listed by the state Public Utilities Commission for eight or fewer passengers, but had nine. He did not comment on whether the overcrowding may have been a factor in the women's deaths.
Maskarich said the cause of the blaze remains under investigation.
The vehicle went up in flames on Saturday night on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge during a girls' night out. The driver and four of the women were able to escape.
A newlywed bride was among the victims.
Drivers says he misheard plea for help
The driver of the limousine says he at first misunderstood what one of the passengers in the back of the limousine was saying when she complained about smelling smoke.
Orville Brown told the San Francisco Chronicle that with the music up 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."
The fire broke out late Saturday night as the Lincoln Town Car crossed the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge on the south end of the bay.
A newlywed bride celebrating her marriage and four others perished from the fire. The four women who escaped were seriously injured.
The driver was uninjured.
San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault says the driver pulled over, got out, and saw the back of the 1999 Lincoln Town Car fully engulfed in flames.
By the time firefighters rushed to the scene and put out the fire, authorities found five badly burned bodies huddled near the partition that separates the driver from the passengers. Foucrault says other motorists helped three women get out of the rear right door, and a fourth woman managed to squeeze through the partition.
Relatives told the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News that one of the dead was 31-year-old Neriza Fojas, a registered nurse from Fresno who recently wed and was planning to travel to her native Philippines next month to hold another ceremony before family.